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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete's Mariinsky to Sing On Bolshoi Theater's Stage




For the second time this year, performers from Moscow's Bolshoi Theater will trade performing venues with their counterparts at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.


The ballets made the exchange in February. Now it's opera's turn, with Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" opening a seven-performance season by the Mariinsky at the Bolshoi on Saturday.


Given that the Mariinsky moves on to New York later this month for a two-and-a-half week stint at the Metropolitan Opera, one might expect that the four Russian operas to be given there would form the core of the Moscow offerings. Not so and in fact, not a single opera scheduled for New York will be seen in Moscow. This is not part of a plan by conductor Valery Gergiyev to show off the strength and diversity of his company but apparently stems simply from logistical difficulties in moving around vast quantities of scenery. Moscow audiences have little cause to complain.


Unlike opera goers New York, they will be able to sample the Mariinsky's latest forays into the German repertoire. There will be Russian offerings as well -- some of the company's most impressive and challenging achievements in recent years.


Last May, the Mariinsky made operatic history by presenting what was for all practical purposes the Russian premiere of Wagner's "Parsifal." The event found the company -- which had next to no experience in Wagner -- functioning on an artistic plane that some might have guessed it could reach only in a Russian classic.


Tony Palmer's production has a distinctly Russian flavor not because he wanted to make some cute point about "Parsifal" coming to Russia, but because he wanted to make this strange and mystical work seem less forbidding to its new audience. The production cuts through the opera's diffuse philosophical content to present the work as a story of Christian faith and redemption. And it gives an opportunity to sample Gergiyev's considerable skills as a Wagnerian. Larisa Gogolevskaya, Viktor Lutsyuk and Gennady Bezzubenkov lead the cast on April 10.


For those curious about Wagner but wary of the five-hour-plus "Parsifal," the composer's more romantic and accessible "The Flying Dutchman" -- the Mariinsky's latest Wagner endeavor -- may be a good bet. The production team of Temur Tchkeidze and George Tsypin was responsible for last year's Golden Mask winner -- Prokofiev's "The Gambler" -- though the stylized action that worked so well there may not be quite right for Wagner's surging emotions. In addition to Saturday's performance, a matinee will be offered on Sunday at noon. Nikolai Putilin will sing the title role.


Muscovites who have heard reports about Yury Kharikov's fantasy land sets for the Mariinsky's new "Prince Igor" may be disappointed that they won't have a chance to see them themselves, but, in fact, traditional Russian opera is better served by Leonid Baratov's production of Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina", which dates from the 1940s and was revived a decade ago. The production was seen last month at La Scala in performances with several of the singers who will appear on April 6, among them Larisa Dyadkova, Vladimir Ognovenko and Mikhail Kit. "Khovanshchina" is not the only Baratov production to figure in the current exchange: The Bolshoi will take Baratov's recent version of Glinka's "Ivan Susanin" to St. Petersburg.


Two of this century's most sensational Russian operas complete the Mariinsky's offerings. Shostakovich's "Katerina Ismailova" (originally known as "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District") will be given on April 8 with Larisa Shevchenko, Sergei Alexashkin and Yury Marusin.


Performances in the West generally revert to the original version of the opera, whose enormous popularity in the early 1930s came to an abrupt end when Stalin orchestrated an official attack on it in Pravda. Gergiyev, however, favors the 1963 revision, because of what he regards as musical improvements.


Like "Katerina Ismailova," Prokofiev's "The Fiery Angel" has a heavy dose of sex and violence. David Freeman's production from 1991 will be seen on April 12 with Gogolevskaya and Putilin. One of Gergiyev's first international successes, it is very much a shocker, particularly in the orgiastic frenzy of the final convent scene. Repeated viewings do little to help clarify Prokofiev's inscrutable tale of the occult, but for a good visceral thrill, you can't beat it the first time.


The company has also scheduled a gala concert on April 7. Gergiyev will conduct all performances.