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Mazeppa at the Met

Other Articles:

Michael Steinberg, Gergiev Conducts Tchaikovsky's 'Mazeppa' (Forbes, March 8)

David Patrick Stearns, Met's 'Mazeppa' a spectacular flop - but go (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 8)

Ben Mattison, Photo Journal: Mazeppa at the Met (PlaybillArts, March 7)

Leon Dominguez, Mazeppa comes to the Met (Sieglinde's Diaries, March 7)

Mad about Mazeppa (Alex at Wellsung, March 7)

"Maury d'Annato," I Just Met a Boy Named Mazeppa (My Favorite Intermissions, March 6)

Alan Wagner, In Rides Mazeppa (PlaybillArts, March 5)

Grant Hayter-Menzies, Cri de Cœur (Opera News 70, March 2006)

George Loomis, Hero or Traitor? (PlaybillArts, February 25)

Charles T. Downey, Mazeppa in Lyon (Ionarts, February 16)

Peter Clark, A Met Broadcast Moment (PlaybillArts, February 3)
I'm quite interested in the Met's new production of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, and as usual I have put together a survey of some of the (many, many) reviews. Most critics have cried foul. Vivian Scweitzer's review (Gergiev Conducts New Staging of Tchaikovsky's 'Mazeppa' at Met, March 7) for Bloomberg News was the first I read:
"Mazeppa," a grimly entertaining behemoth crammed with a variety of appealing operatic ingredients -- a creepy May-December love affair, family strife, politics, murder and madness -- received its first-ever production at the Metropolitan Opera last night. Conducted by Valery Gergiev, staged by Yuri Alexandrov, with sets by George Tsypin and costumes by Tatiana Noginova, the show offered four hours of betrayal, torture and despair. [...] The macabre plot centers on the love affair between the septuagenarian Mazeppa and his teenage goddaughter Maria, whose parents are understandably unenthusiastic when she chooses her elderly lover over her family and Andrei, a younger admirer. Vasily Kotschubey, her furious father, denounces the cradle- snatcher to the czar who, unfortunately for him, sides with Mazeppa. Kotschubey's head is cut off and Maria goes mad. The opera finishes with the delusional heroine singing a poignant lullaby to the scorned Andrei, mistaking him for a child.

At the Met, the curtain rises on a Ukrainian pastoral scene with seated maidens crooning a folksong against a projected backdrop of endless, sunlit fields. Life-size plaster models of Cossack heroes hover high above the stage front on what looks like scaffolding, while plaster maidens are stuck on columns lining the side of the stage. A feast scene at Kotschubey's court has dancers leaping around in shiny gold pantaloons and gold tutus. Black-cloaked Cossacks have bald heads and black ponytails, while Mazeppa wears red leather. Act I's 17th-century Ukrainian sauna contrasted oddly with projections of World War I imagery in the final act. The slender, attractive Olga Guryakova was an excellent Maria, with a lovely, supple and powerful voice. Whether dressed in a slinky gold mini-dress or a long white nightie, she was persuasive as a vulnerable lover, a power-hungry partner thirsting to rule Ukraine and a demented victim.
Next I read Martin Bernheimer's review (Mazeppa, Metropolitan Opera, New York, March 7) for the Financial Times:
Yuri Alexandrov, the director, and George Tsypin, his designer, have staged the proceedings as a quasi-modern hodge-podge – sometimes powerful, sometimes not. The action seems predicated on pompous circumstance. The clichés on display include a raked rising-and-falling platform, assorted Grand Guignol devices, simplistic symbols, earnest abstractions, iconic stylisations and lots of falling snow. The tone fluctuates between phony naturalism and strut-and-stagger ritual. Tatiana Noginova’s costumes fuse period regalia with modern dress. It is all a matter of progressive déjà-vu.
Olga Guryakova, sopranoMost reviewers praised the cast and Gergiev's conducting, and almost everyone commented on the fact that the opera's length caused a lot of spectators to leave early. Having recently spent over five hours listening to the Kirov Opera's Parsifal, I have only one comment: pussies. The king of kings, Anthony Tommasini, chimed in (From a Galaxy Far Far Away, Tchaikovsky's Ivan the Rebel, March 8) for the New York Times:
Alas, this lavish yet jumbled production by Yuri Alexandrov, in his Met debut, made me nostalgic for that dusty old low-budget Kirov show. With sets by George Tsypin and costumes by Tatiana Noginova, it is cluttered with symbolism and, for all its pomp and glitter, rather trashy looking. Seemingly intent on showing the story as a parable for the continuing sectarian strife of greater Russia, Mr. Alexandrov has given the opera an intergalactic gloss. Was George Lucas a design and concept consultant? Still, the important news is that this profound opera has come to the Met, and the musical performance is thoroughly compelling. The story depicts the downfall of Mazeppa, who allied himself with Peter the Great and served as Cossack overlord in his Ukrainian homeland until he turned against the czar and joined with Sweden to incite a rebellion, crushed by Peter in 1709.
In particular, Tommasini criticizes the way the staging modifies the ending of the opera. Most of the reviews that I have read have struck a remarkably similar tone. Justin Davidson's review (Vulgar on the Volga in a musical Russian history, March 9) for Newsday "so tawdry and pretentious that neither a half-good cast nor all of Valery Gergiev's strenuous ministrations could rouse this turkey of the steppes." He was not as kind to the cast as others:
Tchaikovsky plunges this volatile plot into a vat of gorgeously depressive music. Folk tunes, bright orchestral effects, drunken ditties and Cossack cheers swirl together with colorful lamentations and vengeful soliloquies. Even in celebratory scenes, the mood is hellish, the tones glimmering and dark. Valery Gergiev, the Met's chief steward of Russian opera, on opening night tended Tchaikovsky's bold brushstrokes, his clarinet-and-cello shadows, his blinding highlights of brass. He drew out the orchestra's warm, thickly Slavic sound, and wrapped it around the Russian singers' chewy diphthongs and rawhide tones. Raymond Hughes' always-excellent chorus outdid itself in martial roars. In its most gripping moments, this was an event to experience with eyes closed. At other times, even that defense failed. The singers got worse as the importance of their roles increased. Larissa Diadkova, as Maria's fearsome mother, upstaged an entire Cossack battalion. Tenor Oleg Balashov made a couple of lovely, heartfelt cameos as Maria's adorer-from-afar. Olga Guryakova had an erratic night as Maria, taking flight now and then but often seeming pinioned and stiff. But the whole enterprise depends on two violent males: the concrete-voiced baritone Nikolai Putilin as Mazeppa and Paata Burchladze as Kochubey, both of whom staggered under the four-hour opera's weight.
It sounds to me like it would still be worth your while to hear one of the remaining performances if you can. Alas, I cannot.


Mark Barry said...

beautiful picture.

Charles T. Downey said...

Margarita, yes, for me the chance to listen to the Met broadcast is the way to go, too. Although, as Mark noted, I wouldn't mind seeing Olga Guryakova in person either.