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12.4.05

Opera in Russia

An article (Dark Siberian 'Aida' recalls war traumas, April 12) by Sophia Kishkovsky for the International Herald Tribune reviews two interesting new operatic productions in Russia. Last month, it was the premiere of a new opera, with a libretto by postmodern author Vladimir Sorokin, called Children of Rosental, at the Bolshoi Opera. Last week, there was a single performance of Aida from a Siberian company called Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, at the Kremlin (which apparently has a concert stage) in Moscow. It is an unusual production for Russia because it relocates the setting from Egypt to Europe:

The Egyptian theme, said Dmitry Cherniakov, 35, the theater director and set and costume designer who also conceived the production, is "just a label that bears little relation to the main essence. I wanted to unwrap it," said Cherniakov, a Muscovite who has worked at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters as well, by telephone the morning after the show. "The eclectic, assembled, decorative Egypt has no relation to the authenticity and anxiety in the music." Cherniakov transported the setting to a dark war-torn cityscape of desperate refugees, a dissolute elite, pockmarked buildings and fallen lampposts that evoke a kind of collective image of collapsing authoritarianism - and certain parallels to Putin's Russia. Many had a very specific war in mind as they exited for the intermission. "Why do we need Chechnya in opera?" an elderly woman asked of her friends. She seemed traumatized by the production, which was accompanied by pyrotechnics and deafening fake gunfire. This was not for the weak of heart in Moscow, where a theater was taken over by Chechen terrorists during a performance in 2002. As it is, tight Kremlin security delayed the performance of "Aida" by more than an hour.
I'm looking for more information on Children of Rosental.

UPDATE:
I have now located an article by Sophia Kishkovsky, Bolshoi shows what fuss is about (International Herald Tribune, March 25):
The opera "Children of Rosental" premiered at the Bolshoi Theater on Wednesday night in a hall packed with Moscow's political and cultural elite and a protest outside organized by a youth group that supports President Vladimir Putin and reviles Vladimir Sorokin, a writer and the opera's librettist. Sorokin told state television's Channel One on the eve of the premiere that the opera, his first libretto, is "about the loneliness of a genius in the crowd, about the impossibility of reliving a life in art." After the premiere, weary but pleased, he dismissed the campaign against it. "I don't think about them," he said of the protesters. "They're petty. It smells of the past. It's from the Soviet era." The opera has been sparking scandal since it was put on the Bolshoi's schedule, and the controversy is reminiscent of the plot of "Blue Lard," Sorokin's postmodern novel, which was also targeted by the pro-Putin youth group, Moving Together, in 2002 and symbolically flushed down a portable toilet in front of the theater.

"Children of Rosental" involves clones of the composers Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Mozart, Wagner and Verdi that have been created by a Soviet scientist. The collapse of the Soviet Union turns them into paupers and pushes them onto the streets, where they are forced to live among prostitutes and pimps. In the first act, a chorus of geneticists sings phrases like "To the laboring people" and "Glory to the reserves of growth." Images of Soviet and Russian leaders from Stalin to Yeltsin are flashed on plasma screens. A choir of prostitutes appears in the second act, which especially infuriated the opera's critics. Like most everything in Russia these days, the event had a whiff of great import with a big dash of farce. It was the must-have ticket on Wednesday night, drawing oligarchs, best-selling authors and Anastasia Volochkova, the ballerina famous for being fired by the Bolshoi in 2003 for being too heavy. She swept out during the first act.
I recommend reading the whole thing (not just the excerpt run by the New York Times). I would really like to see this opera at some point. I sure wish I had a real arts television channel, supported by the government, that actually broadcast interesting opera performances. Instead, I have this, which can barely be troubled to broadcast one opera per year.

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