Monday, February 27, 2006

Kirov Opera Brings Prussian Amber Chamber And Eastern European Iconostatis Memories To The John F. Kennedy For The Performing Arts

I was happy to have had the opportunity to attend all three of this past week's featured works, under conductor Valery Gergiev, of the Kirov (Mariinsky Theater) Opera and Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -- Wagner's Parsifal, Verdi's Requiem, and Puccini's Turandot. I thought that the orchestral playing, under Mr Gergiev, was at a higher level than I recalled from some past year performances, and I found the operatic staging -- under guest directors from Britain and France -- quite successful and exciting.

Some of the singing was a little less than outstanding, while the absolutely awful synthesizer used for the sacred bell effects in Parsifal discouraged me (along with the cold and windy weather) from attending Parsifal a second time, yesterday, to hear a more mature and experienced tenor sing the title role.

I found the Verdi Requiem very exciting and was tremendously impressed by the young Belarussian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, who sang instead of the originally announced super-star Olga Borodino, who was starring in the Metropolitan Opera's matinee production, the next day, of Samson and Delilah.

The diction in both the Wagner and Puccini operas -- and the Latin Requiem -- I thought was fine. I found the stage direction in the Wagner quite strong, and the Puccini even stronger -- especially in Liu's self-sacrifice. I still did not find the final Turandot love duet -- completed by Alfano -- organic with the rest of the act. This was sad, especially since the concluding set -- a Chinese pavilion against a misted mountain range -- was by far the best in the otherwise unmemorable production.

And in no way did this final love duet approach the power of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde love duet, which one reference cites as what Puccini was aspiring to. Further, the brief program note, otherwise fine, describes Calaf's kiss of Turandot as a "rape". Is this the current American musicological thought on this? [In the Wagner second act, we have Parsifal facing, and being kissed by, a mother-figure/temptress; in Turandot we have male date rape, based on a passionate kiss, subsequently leading to triumphant love. So much for late 19th century operatic adult sexuality and love.]

Last, there was the memorable set, by Euvgeny Sykys, from 1997, for this Kirov/Mariinsky/Russian National Opera Petersburg Wagner Parsifal. It was certainly not homogenous in conception, and was in fact fussy and mannerist in several places. But I don't think that audience members will soon forget the opening lake-side or Spanish medieval Cathedral scenes, which exceeded in numinosity anything achieved in the Bayreuth traditional production, from 1981, captured by UNITEL Television; and which almost matched the sublime beauty of the MET Opera's older Parsifal production from the 1970s.

Whereas promotional materials have called this 1997, Russian - British co-production -- staged by Tony Palmer -- a "Russian Parsifal", with a featured image of a Slavonic Orthodox Pancreator projected or painted on the Cathedral scenes, this image did not in fact appear in the staging.

Instead, there were what I would describe as Prussian amber constructions for the walls of the Cathedral -- alluding to the gift of the Amber chamber from Prussia to Russia which was subsequently either destroyed or lost during the Nazi bombing of the suburbs of Leningrad (Petersburg) [and Konigsburg, East Prussia] during World War II (or the Great Patriot War to the Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians, and other Soviet nationalities) and which has recently been painstakenly restored -- and perhaps Belarussian (or Spanish, French, Austrian, or Russian) baroque sacred embroidery mixed with Belarussian iconostatis architecture. [The Belarussians were the master iconostatis carvers of 17th and 18th century Eastern Europe, and Moscow and Petersburg invited Belarussian master carvers to create the famous slendid iconostates of 17th and 18th centuries Moscow and Petersburg, just as it invited Italian and French architects to create the Kremlin fortified Palace and Cathedral Complex in Moscow and the new European planned city of Petersburg.]

The iconostatis of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress, on the Neva River, [St] Petersburg, Russia. The cathedral -- restored in 2003 -- now houses the remains of all the Romanovs.

Photo credit: Jennifer Bantz, With thanks.


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