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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zany ‘Hamlet’ Tops Stellar Opera Season

Chingis Ayusheyev was masterful as Hamlet in Vladimir Kobekin’s oddly titled “Hamlet (Danish) (Russian) Comedy.”

With all of Moscow’s opera and ballet theaters due soon to be on holiday until autumn, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the best — and the worst — of what they had to offer in the season now drawing to a close.

In the realm of opera, the season brought with it what was probably the most outstanding array of new productions of any in post-Soviet times. Arguably qualifying for the best among them were U.S. composer Jay Reise’s “Rasputin” at Helikon Opera, Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at Novaya Opera, Vladimir Kobekin’s “Hamlet (Danish) (Russian) Comedy” and Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Cherevichki” at the Pokrovsky Chamber Musical Theater.

Forced to choose just one, I would give the nod to Kobekin’s weirdly titled updating of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Director Alexander Titel gave the work a marvelously detailed and suitably madcap staging, executed to the hilt by his company of first-rate singing actors and supported with an inspired reading of Kobekin’s dynamic, complex and hugely appealing score by the theater’s chief conductor, Felix Korobov.

Apart from Korobov’s, the most impressive operatic conducting of the season came from the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s veteran maestro Volf Gorelik, in “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Novaya Opera’s Eri Klas, in “The Barber of Seville,” as well as from Englishman Jan Latham-Koenig in a reprise of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” the debut of which at Novaya Opera in February of last year proved the one truly bright spot in an otherwise nondescript operatic season of 2007-2008.

Vocally, the revelation of the season was Novaya Opera’s Sergei Romanovsky, whose finely tuned, light, lyric tenor graced “The Barber of Seville” and, unhappily for Moscow audiences, seems almost certain to be in great demand soon on operatic stages abroad. Among other performances that still remain firmly etched in this listener’s mind were the powerful, idiomatic Ortrud of soprano Yelena Popovskaya in “Lohengrin,” — quite possibly the best interpretation of that very difficult role I have ever heard — and the superb matching of voice to action that soprano Larisa Andreyeva displayed as Ophelia in Kobekin’s modernized version of “Hamlet.”

Striking out on the operatic front was the Bolshoi Theater, which, for what turned out to be its only new production of the season, added to its repertoire a third disastrous staging by the much-hyped Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrosius. In this case, the opera was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s folkloric “The Tale of the Invisible City of Kitezh,” which Nekrosius and his designer son, Marius, managed to rob of nearly all its inherent power and beauty. Added to that were inadequate casting of the major roles and conducting that rarely scaled the score’s musical heights. Novaya Opera also provided a low point of the season with its travesty of Johann Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus” perpetrated by trendy young Dutch director Michiel Dijkema.

The months since September have given dance lovers much cause for celebration. Best of all among new productions by local companies was the Bolshoi’s “Russian Seasons,” a work choreographed by the theater’s now sadly missed former artistic director for ballet, Alexei Ratmansky. Unleashing Ratmansky’s entire range of choreographic invention, “Russian Seasons” offers a brilliantly constructed, abstract depiction of traditional Russian folk rituals as they occur through the 12 months of the year and is set to a hauntingly beautiful score, penned by St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov, that is based on folk songs.

The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko enlivened the season with highly successful stagings of two formidable full-length ballets: “Stone Flower,” an early work of long-time Bolshoi balletmaster Yury Grigorovich, revived for the theater under the supervision of the master himself; and “Napoli,” a 19th-century classic of Danish origin, staged by a crack team of experts from the Royal Danish Ballet.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Bolshoi’s pair of meticulously reconstructed revivals of choreography by the Mariinsky Theater’s legendary Marius Petipa — the one-act Grand Pas from “Paquita” and full-length “Coppelia,” both of which proved largely dead on arrival — as well as its staging of a new work by Italian choreographer Francesco Ventriglia designed to display the talents of Bolshoi prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova. The latter, called “Zakharova Super Game,” attempted to present a computer game in dance, with results that might have made “Zakharova Super Dud” a more appropriate title.

Among the many dancers of both companies seen over the course of the season, I would be inclined to single out the Bolshoi’s Maria Aleksandrova for special praise. In role after role this season, whether dancing impeccably as Aspicia in “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” bringing warmth and humanity to Swanhilda in an otherwise leaden “Coppelia” or playing the capricious Miller’s Wife in “Le Tricorne,” Aleksandrova seemed to lift her art to a higher plane than ever before. Certainly well deserved was the coveted title she received earlier this year of People’s Artist of Russia.