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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helikon Marks 10th Year

Ten years ago Monday, a 22-year-old drama student by the name of Dmitry Bertman took the risky step of launching his own opera company, setting up shop in the ballroom of an aristocratic 19th-century mansion on what is now Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa, with a staging of Igor Stravinsky's rarely-performed comic delight, "Mavra."

In the intervening decade, with more than a score of productions to his credit, Bertman's Helikon Opera has gone on to establish itself as far and away the most exciting and innovative of Moscow's four major operatic theaters.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Helikon Opera has planned two special benefit performances, Friday and Saturday, of Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffman," the production that last year gained Bertman a Golden Mask award and his company a triumphant reception in Paris, the site of the opera's premiere, where the Helikon singers boldly performed the opera - as they do here - in the original French.

Coinciding with the anniversary will be the company's launch of a new venture, called Friends of the Helikon Opera, which will grant those members of its audience who wish to join a host of special privileges in exchange for much-needed financial support for the theater's artistic program.

The state of the theater's finances, though, will cast a shadow over the coming anniversary celebrations. Even with the highest ticket prices of any Moscow opera company and a full house at virtually every performance, box office receipts cover only a small fraction of its costs. Most of what it survives on comes from private presentations, occasional outside sponsorship and, above all, a subsidy provided by the Moscow city government.

But at a reception for winners of this year's Golden Mask awards last week, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov informed Bertman that, for the present at least, the city's subsidy must be limited to covering wages alone - it used to cover wages, rent, housekeeping costs and a share of production costs. This development was likely related to the city's struggle to avoid defaulting on a $500 million Eurobond issue scheduled for repayment next month.

But life goes on at the Helikon - work is progressing on decor and costumes for Giuseppe Verdi's "Macbeth," due at the theater in May. In addition, French director Denis Krief, who brought a thought-provoking "Iolanthe" to the Helikon Opera two seasons ago, is standing by to stage the work.

And Bertman remains supremely optimistic about the future, which for now includes return engagements during 2000 in France, Austria and the United States, as well as plans to perform this season both "Turandot" - not the Giacomo Puccini work made famous by the Three Tenors, but the almost-never-heard version by Puccini's Italian contemporary, Ferruccio Busoni - and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Magic Flute," the latter to be staged by one of Moscow's best-known theatrical figures, the Taganka Theater's Yury Lyubimov.

"The Tales of Hoffman" (Skazki Goffmana) plays at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Helikon Opera, located at 19 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa. Metro Arbatskaya. Tel. 290-0971. Tickets are available at the opera's box office. For more information about Friends of the Helikon Opera, call the organization's director, Nadezhda Zhdanova, at 290-5359.