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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

7 in Contention for Golden Mask Opera Award

Aleksandr NazarovSeven theater companies from Russia are set to stage their contenders for the Golden Mask's opera award.��
This year's Golden Mask Awards festival, which officially opens Friday, has picked seven nominees for the award for best production of opera staged in Russia during the season of 2007-2008. Two nominees are homegrown Moscow productions, while two from St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater made their Golden Mask appearances in Moscow prior to the festival proper. Though the remaining trio may bring some happy surprises, it already seems clear that this year's crop of operatic nominees is much less formidable than almost any other in the festival's 15 years of existence.

Adding a bit of scandal to the festival has been the withdrawal from future Golden Mask contention by two of Moscow's principal operatic venues, Helikon Opera and Novaya Opera. Each claims that its sole new production of last season was unjustly excluded from the list of nominees.

The leader to date in the Golden Mask opera category has been the Mariinsky, with five out of the 13 past awards to its credit. This time it has two contenders, both of contemporary vintage: Rodion Shchedrin's "The Enchanted Wanderer" and Pavel Smelkov's "The Brothers Karamazov." The former proved an insufferable bore when performed last season, and the staged version earlier this year somehow made it even less bearable. The latter turned out to be pretty dreadful as well, with a feeble score and a staging that trivialized Dostoevsky's great novel.

Runner-up to the Mariinsky is Moscow's Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, the recipient of three past awards for best production of opera, including the one given last year to its Russian stage premiere of Claude Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande." The theater's nominee this year is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "May Night," which, as seen at its debut last March, provides a pleasant evening of music and a nice glimpse into the fantasy world of Nikolai Gogol, on whose short story the opera is based. But it fell somewhat short of the best the theater usually produces. "May Night" receives its festival performance on April 16.

Though it has come up with several near-winners in recent years, the Bolshoi Theater has yet to gain a Golden Mask for best production of opera. This year, it has no chance at all, as neither of its two productions of last season, the colorless staging of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "The Queen of Spades" and the misbegotten modern-dress version of Georges Bizet's "Carmen," was deemed worthy of a nomination.

Three nominees are due to present their festival performances next week. On Tuesday, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya) Theater of Opera and Ballet brings a new one-act opera, "Alexander of Macedon," by the prolific Vladimir Kobekin, whose "Margarita" at last year's festival fell short of expectations but whose "Hamlet (Danish) (Russian) Comedy" has subsequently become a well-deserved hit at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko.

The following evening marks the festival appearance of Moscow's second operatic nominee, the Russian Performing Arts Fund's production of French composer Francis Poulenc's "La Voix Humaine." The setting, a play by Jean Cocteau, presents a woman in the process of breaking up by telephone with her long-standing lover, his voice inaudible at the other end of the line. Since its premiere in 1959, it has become a popular vehicle for some of opera's best sopranos.

On Thursday, St. Petersburg's Zazerkalye Theater presents Giaochino Rossini's "La Cenerentola," a retelling of the Cinderella story that demands a first-rate mezzo-soprano in the title role and a highly skilled supporting cast.

Finally, on April 16, the Perm Opera of Theater and Ballet presents Claudio Monteverdi's "Orfeo," a work dating from the dawn of opera in the early 17th century.

As for the scandal mentioned earlier, the action on Novaya Opera's part seems a justified response to the Golden Mask's failure to nominate its production of Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin." Superbly staged to high European standard by a team from Denmark, brilliantly conducted by British maestro Jan Latham-Koenig and sung by casts almost entirely drawn from Novaya Opera's own roster of singers, "Lohengrin" was Moscow's most notable production of last season, so its exclusion from Golden Mask contention seems like a disgrace. The same cannot be said for Helikon Opera's version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," which suffered from serious weaknesses, both musically and from director Dmitry Bertman's usual stage gimmicks. But it still seems a worthier effort than either of the Mariinsky's two nominated productions.

"Alexander of Macedon" plays March 31 at 7 p.m. at Novaya Opera, 3 Karetny Ryad. Metro Mayakovskaya, Chekhovskaya. 694-0868/1830.

"La Voix Humaine" plays April 1 at 7 p.m. in the Theater Hall at Dom Muzyki, Moscow International House of Music, 52 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya, Bldg. 8. Metro Paveletskaya. 730-4350.

"La Cenerentola" plays April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater. 17 Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Metro Tverskaya, Chekhovskaya. 629-8388

"May Night" plays April 16 at 7 p.m at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater.

"Orfeo" plays April 16 at 1 p.m. at the Moskovskaya Operetta, 5 Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Metro Teatralnaya. 925-5050.