This year's visit by the performers of the Mariinsky Theater to the Kennedy Center features more concert performances than staged ones, but as remarked of their opening concert of Eugene Onegin, a good concert performance of an opera can allow the listener's imaginary perfect staging to unfold in his mind. That is less true of the least satisfying kind of concert opera performance, the hodgepodge of excerpted scenes, which is one step above the gala opera concert with a few arias slapped together. Rather than the two concerts of Russian opera scenes offered by conductor Valery Gergiev this week, on Wednesday and Thursday night, how much better would it have been to have two more complete operas, say, Prince Igor (or Khovanshchina) and Iolanta?
There was much to enjoy at both of these concerts in the Kennedy Center Opera House, but the excerpts of the operas just mentioned stood out for the particular beauty of their scores and the feeling and shape that Gergiev gave to them. On Wednesday it was Borodin's Prince Igor, from which we heard the entire second act after intermission. Ekaterina Semenchuk, the ravishing Olga from last week's Onegin gave another sultry performance as Kontchakovna, matched by the gorgeous, exotic music of the Polovtsian Dances and chorus of the handmaidens. Tenor Sergey Semishkur sounded in much better form as Vladimir than he had as Lensky on Friday night, rounding out the duet with Semenchuk in a beautiful way. Mikhail Petrenko, who had been a patrician Gremin in Onegin, showed a more aggressive side of his voice as the imperious Khan Kontchak entertaining his prisoner. Mikhail Kit, replacing the originally announced Evgeny Nikitin, was an appropriately proud Prince Igor.
Edem Umerov stood in for Nikitin as Shaklovity in the excerpt from Khovanshchina, switched from the probably more satisfying scenes from Act III and IV (which would have stretched out this already long concert even longer) to a scene from the second act. While Umerov's voice had a satisfying roar to it, especially in a resonant top, it was the chorus that stood out in the other two excerpts, especially the men as the drunken Streltsy in Khovanshchina and in the hushed prayers to the Virgin Mary, in the Rimsky-Korsakov rarity The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, to protect the city from the advancing Tartar army. The opera is kind of a snoozer, but Gergiev brought out the master orchestrator's shimmering colors from his orchestra, especially at the conclusion, some magical instrumental effects to evoke the golden fog that rises to shroud the city. As heard on both nights, Gergiev's violins especially and the strings in general have an impressively unified sound for the most part, while the brass, potent and clear, have a tendency to lag behind his beat and the woodwinds have some intonation issues, especially in the flute and piccolo, while the English horn solos were outstanding.
Ekaterina Semenchuk (photo by Sheila Rock)
Anne Midgette, Anna Netrebko brings the Mariinsky to life (Washington Post, March 6)
The real climax of the Mariinsky Theater's visit is this weekend's staging of Prokofiev's epic opera War and Peace (March 6 and 7), in the Kennedy Center Opera House. This is the recent production directed by Andrei Konchalovsky for the Mariinsky Theater, featuring a cast of two hundred, with all of the sets and costumes brought from St. Petersburg in a coup of advance planning and transportation rivaling the Napoleonic invasion itself. Tickets are sold out, but call the box office directly to inquire about cancellations.