Monday, February 20, 2006

Einojuhani Rautavaara's Rasputin Is What The Kirov Opera/Russian National Opera Should Be Bringing To The Metropolitan And Kennedy Center Opera Houses

On Saturday evening, I finally got around to viewing, on Ondine DVD, Einojuhani Rautavaara's recent [2003], musically accessible while thematically complex, three-act opera "Rasputin" for the Finnish National Opera, which is in Finnish and which stars the superb singing bass Matti Salminen (among other superb singing actors and actresses) as the complex Siberian Priest, Folk Healer, and Satyr, who rises to the pinnacle of power in the Petersburg Court of Nicholas II and who foresees the downfall of the Romanov Russian Imperial Dynasty (1613–1917); all the while attempting to "heal" the Czar and Czarina's son of hemophilia and the richest Count in Petersburg of homosexuality.

I thought the opera was a 21st century masterpiece, and one which should soon be seen in the opera houses of New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

And I am sorry that the Kirov Opera/Russian National Opera - Petersburg hasn't yet had time to incorporate this masterpiece into its repertoire so that it can tour the work to America. (I think that Rautavaara's Rasputin is certainly a greater work of music drama/opera than is Puccini's Turandot, which the Kirov Opera/RNOP opened yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. If the Kirov Opera/RNOP can't incorporate this opera into its repertoire in the next six years, I think that the New Metropolitan Opera, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the two great opera houses of San Francisco and Los Angeles should invite the Finnish National Opera to tour this work; as well as some of the other superb contemporary operas composed by Finnish composers -- for the Finnish National Opera -- over the past generation.)

The great bass singer Matti Salminen as Grigory Rasputin celebrates a heterosexual orgy in Einojuhani Rautavaara's new complex portrait of the Siberian priest, folk healer, and sensualist who advised (manipulated) the Russian Romanov Imperial family until his and its downfall in 1916/1917.

Photo credit: With thanks.

Also please see:


Some may want also to see:

"Russian Museum to Exhibit Rasputin’s Penis" MosNews April 28, 2004.

"The first Russian museum of erotica is opening in St. Petersburg, Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reports. The museum is founded by Igor Knyazkin, the chief of the prostate research center of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

Knyazkin told the newspaper that museums of sex and erotica exist in many European countries and he wanted Russia to be a civilized country with a view on the future and with correct views on erotica.

There is one exhibit in the museum which makes Knyazkin be especially proud of. This is the 30-centimeter preserved penis of Grigory Rasputin. “Having this exhibit, we can stop envying America, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis is now kept. … Napoleon’s penis is but a small "pod" it cannot stand comparison to our organ of 30 centimeters…" the head of the museum said.

Rasputin, nicknamed “Mad Monk” by historians was born in 1869 in Siberia, arrived in St. Petersburg in 1911 and within a few years had become one of the most influential men in government circles. His rise to preeminence was due to his close relationship with Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra. The heir to the throne suffered from hemophaelia, and only Rasputin could stop the boy’s bleeding. Because of this, Alexandra believed he was a holy man sent to protect Alexis and she kept him close by at all times.

However, many historians point to the unusual cult that Rasputin practiced at the Emperors’ court — a strange mixture of Christianity and sexual practices. Many of the noble women were believed to be in sexual relations with Rasputin, possibly including the Empress." ...



Blogger operalover said...

I wonder what's so great about Rautavaara's Rasputin. He is certainly a great composer. But this particular opera doesn't do justice to its wonderful topic. I find the libretto to be the weakest point about the opera. And the music as superbly wonderful, lyrical and beautiful as it is has very little to do with a story which is at least historically neither lyrical nor beautiful. I have a feeling Kirov is avoiding the piece because it deals with a quintessential Russian topic in a very un-Russian way. By the way, in my humble opinion, Turandot is one of the greatest theatrical works ever written. Rautavaara's Raputin doesn't even take off theatrically. I don't care what goes on on stage, be it a wild orgy, gypsies singing or Rasputin having fun with women, if it's not reflected in the music (which in the case of this opera it is not) or just drawn in a very pale manner, it is not going to work as a piece of musical drama.

4:26 PM  
Blogger operalover said...

I forgot to add one more thing. I think the posting about Rasputin's penis at the Erotica Museum is rather inappropriate after reviewing Rautavaara's opera, unless the writer does indeed believe that it actually is Rasputin's penis (and Elvis lives!). I think the slightest amount of research would have revealed the fact that Rasputin's body was completely destroyed after it was dug out of its original grave by the revolutionaries.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Garth Trinkl said...

Dear Operalover.... Thanks for your two comments. I appreciate your interest and feedback.

I will stand by my initial opinion that Rasputin is an excellent new music drama/opera worthy of the world's operatic stages -- and in the same league as Puccini's Turandot.

Notice that I did hedge my evaluation by calling the work a superb work of "music drama". I had imagined that it would not appeal fully to those who expect one, two, or three supreme arias to compensate for narrative incomprehensibility or sadism.

Without having studied it separately from the new work, I think the Rasputin libretto is fine. Characterizations are interesting and fairly full. It gives a somewhat complex portrait of a man and a slice of life before the Russian revolution.
Yes, the work does rely on arioso singing, but so do -- generally speaking -- the two great Musorgsky operas.

I will disagree with you about Turandot, which I saw recently in the older of the two Kirov/Mariinsky productions. I am not interested in the characters and their alleged motivations and I learn nothing important about the relationship, historically, between Persia, Tartary, and China. I was more interested in Turandot in its 2002 Mariinsky - Salzburg production, which emphasized the Italian futurist or dadaist aspect of the work. (On Monday, I viewed quickly, at my lunch hour, the National Gallery of Arts new major Dada exhibition).

Regarding Rasputin's alleged penis,
it was an afterthought which I found somewhat relevant to a Russia trying to recover its historical memory. I hope the mention on the blog did not alienate hundreds of readers. I know nothing about what the Bolsheviks did to Rasputin's body or the history of the extremity.
(I think that the travelling show of figures from Petersburg's famous wax museum -- now in Lviv, and before that in Zhytomyr, Ukraine -- included a fully clothed Rasputin. I clearly recall the tall wax figure of Peter the Great.)

In sum, to me Rautavaara's Rasputin does take off -- though the ending struck me as a bit too much of a new Broadway style (Les Mis) tableaux. [I do not know Jan Bach's Rasputin done at the NYCO in the late 1970s or early 1980s, nor the Placido Domingo Rasputin, done recently in Los Angeles in the new opera by Deborah Drattell.]

I will assume you've watched Saariaho and Maloof's L'Amour du Loin and Henze's L'Upupa? Thanks for commenting.

6:05 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home