Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mariinsky / Bryn Terfel Opera Gala WMC

Photo still nabbed from the WMC

Way back in the summer, or the less rainy season as I'm beginning to think of it, I tramped down to London to catch the Mariinsky Theatre's Wagner Cycle in Covent Garden with high hopes. After four nights I left with dashed hopes. I'll refrain from reliving the bad memories, but trust me when I say they are bad. I'd booked tickets for this evening many months beforehand and I was never going to relinquish them, especially with Bryn Terfel singing the role of Wotan – but I was filled with a certain sense of tumultuous apprehension as to what I would be faced with...

The evening was split in two – the first part was a mixture of arias and orchestral pieces from Russian, French and Italian composers. I'll keep things short and mention the highlights so I don't asleep at the keyboard and have QWERTY imprinted on my face backwards when I wake in the morning.

Alexei Markov was the most impressive soloist of the first part of the evening with both his arias (Gryaznoi’s aria - The Tsar’s Bride & the final scene from Eugene Onegin). But he wasn't the only singer on show to catch my ear - Sergei Skorokhodov had a pleasing timbre to his voice, if a little strained at the top of his register; Zhanna Dombrovskaya, Skorokhodov's partner in crime for ‘Sulla tomba che rinserra’ (Lucia di Lammermoor) has a voice made for bel canto; Sergei Alexashkin, the veteran of the group, gave a characterful rendition of The Old Gypsy’s Tale from Rachmaninov's Aleko and last of all there was Viktoria Yastrebova. She gave notice of what she is capable of in the Eugene Onegin final scene with Markov. She's returning as Iolanta tomorrow evening when I hope to get a better handle on her voice.

I'm going to be reading keys on my face at this rate. Onwards to the second part!

So here it was – the litmus test of all litmus tests. Would Gergiev and Co make a comeback not seen since Bobby Ewing? Would they be walking out of a shower talking about a crazy dream of London? First off the Valkyries – a lot more thrilling than they had been last time round. Mlada Khudolei reprising her Sieglinde produced a worthwhile cameo – but I hope for her sake she is allowed to escape from Wagner for a while as she is such a young(ish) singer (and could someone have told her which exit to use?). Singing opposite papa Wotan was Larisa Gogolevskaya – the better of the three Brünnhilde's used in London. Where she tired in the Covent Garden performance of Götterdämmerung she was able to keep pace well this evening and if sometimes she neared a screech too many I'm willing to cut her slack given that this is Wagner and she had the full orchestral weight of the Mariinsky two yards behind her.

Apologies for the stunted writing but I'm getting a bit tired and my bed is calling me...

Into this Russian / Germanic mix strode a large Welshman. I'll really cut this short as I may go over the top in praise...In short, he gave a lesson in the art of how to sing Wagner with colours and not as a loudspeaker. My German is, ummm...I have no German, but even so his diction was superb, biting the ends of words peculiar to the language in a rattrap manner. When he was angry, he was angry. When he was tender, he was tender. You knew it. Instinct told you it. His voice told you it (getting carried away now...). And if his voice didn't tell you then his body did. No great waving of arms, just a subtle raising of the head, turning of the back – glowering at Valkyries.

Supporting the drama was Gergiev and his orchestra. In London they had been sloppy, tonight they were taut, ready for the drama and in the silences you could feel the tension they had created in the audience as pins dropped onto bated breaths. This was Wagner as it should be. Humane, yet full of dread and sorrow.

When the final notes died away the applause that rang out was instinctive and told its tale with simplicity. The music making had moved people to the rarified region of heartfelt unity of feeling – Gergiev and Co were Bobby Ewing.

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