In Review > International

Opening Gala

ST. PETERSBURG
Mariinsky II
5/2/12

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Alexey Markov, René Pape, Anna Netrebko, Ildar Abdrazakov and Mikhail Petrenko at the opening gala of the St. Petersburg's Mariinsky II
© Natasha Razina 2013
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René Pape, who sang "Le veau d'or"
© Natasha Razina 2013
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Olga Borodina, who sang "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix"
© Natasha Razina 2013

The Second Stage of the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet opened formally on May 2 with a nationally televised gala introduced by Vladimir Putin himself. Russia's President had conferred the old-style title "Hero of Labor" on Valery Gergiev the previous day, when Gergiev — soon to celebrate a quarter-century of tireless musical and administrative effort placing the Mariinsky as the nation's artistic flagship — led a preliminary concert for World War II veterans and, admirably, retirees from the company's performing and backstage forces. The gala, a highly celebratory event, also neatly coincided with Gergiev's sixtieth birthday. Quibbles remain as to the new building's curious amalgam of styles and its distinctive mix of siting presumption and lack of innovative features, but not about its overall comfort, technical promise and acoustical value, which are probably more important.

The new building's gala paid tribute to the old — and still functioning — 1860 theater across the canal, with a (temporary) replica of its light blue/gold curtain and an onstage mockup of its interior, with balconies and a Tsar's box utilized in turn by dancers, choristers and musicians. Gergiev's programming and Vasily Barkhatov's staging clearly had a television audience of widely varying sophistication in mind, so we saw and heard some kitsch (the high-tech video of a Swarovski crystal roaming the new theater to Prokofiev's sensationally played Montagues and Capulets beggared description) alongside masterpieces and demonstrations of great skill. Tellingly, Gergiev and Barkhatov took care initially to showcase the fine children's chorus (in iconic Bach–Gounod) and scores of talented, very young dancers (in Czerny's "Étude," heavily orchestrated), reflecting both the Mariinsky's high status as a training institution and its potential future stars.

In non-vocal offerings, Denis Matsuev (piano) and Leonidas Kavakos (violin) were duly dazzling. Choreographed numbers ranged from sublime — the corps de ballet showed remarkable technical prowess — to ridiculous (Roland Petit's unbelievably trashy Leda and the Swan, to the kind of glutinous Bach orchestration still inflicted on pre-Mozart repertory here). Even if the musical frameworks left something to be desired, Diana Vishneva (dancing Carmen to Shchedrin's dated redaction) and Ekaterina Kondaurova (dying swan-style with uneven support from Yuri Bashmet) furnished star power. The most theatrically arresting dance moment came in a Rite of Spring opening scene that juxtaposed the reconstructed original Nijinsky choreography (and stunning Nikolai Roerich design) with a contemporary version by Sasha Waltz. This suggested the company's current stylistic range, as well as the new structure's stage and LED-screen capacities.

The concluding lowered demonic rods continued to draw focus even as a top-form René Pape put across a stentorian "Le veau d'or" with the company's always phenomenal chorus. Olga Borodina, one of Gergiev's long-time collaborators in internationalizing the Mariinsky brand, presented breathtakingly beautiful vocalism in a "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" that seemed only barely touched by time. Most impressive among the newer stars were two known to Met audiences — Alexey Markov, as Iolanta's impetuous Robert, and elegant mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk, offering Bizet's "Chanson bohémienne." Plácido Domingo, the first foreign superstar to get behind Gergiev's grand Mariinsky development, contributed a valiant, full-toned (if not exactly poetic) "Winterstürme."

Much attention focused on Anna Netrebko's entrance scena from an announced future vehicle, Macbeth. The results were mixed: the phenomenal black-diamond beauty of the timbre and its easy projection must be weighed against imperfect runs and sometimes wayward pitch. But star quality prevailed in abundance. The interpretation would benefit from firmer direction, and the flaccid rhythm might be made more taut by a better-versed Verdi conductor. Gergiev proved sorely wanting here, though he was quite compelling in virtually everything else presented (apart from Viaggio a Reims's fourteen-person ensemble, which featured some overtaxed as well as some excellent voices but also clear limitations of style). A genuine once-in-a-lifetime Gala Moment came with a clever reification of Netrebko's "It-Girl" status in this theater. Markov entered for "Là ci darem la mano" with a huge bouquet of red roses to ply her with; after her first response, Mikhail Petrenko (not a Mozartean) arrived with more blooms, followed in turn by Pape with a potted rose bush and then Ildar Abdrazakov with a cartful — before the pit rose to disclose Plácido Domingo singing and conducting the final portion. But at the rapturous ovation, she was stolen away by Gergiev! So, fielding multiple Don Juans, this ultra-charming Zerlina — who once said of this early role, "I am not a peasant" — was reconfirmed as queen of hearts of the Mariinsky. It was not orthodox Mozart, but it was a scene that will clearly long delight viewers on YouTube.

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Extra Russian dressing: the all-star gala opening of the Second Stage of the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet
© Natasha Razina 2013

Netrebko walked back onstage to begin the moving Iolanta finale in clear voice, with gentle morbidezza and glowing, apt tone light years from the sound she deployed as Lady Macbeth. She was joined by the legato-free Sergei Semishkur (Vaudemont), the resonant Markov and the characterful bass Ilya Bannik (King René). As the pit slowly rose, the ballet, chorus, brass players and other company forces entered behind the vocal soloists, so that the participants were eventually massed on five separate levels in front of a screen showing blue skies. The scene, along with Tchaikovsky's rousing music, suggested the image as well as the substance of Gergiev's vision for the Mariinsky's limitless potential. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10