May 24th, 2012

The Bolshoi in HD: "The Bright Stream"

Late May is proving a good time for ballet for us. On Tuesday evening, May 15th, we braved a sudden thunderstorm to get out to the Marcus Majestic in Brookfield, to see the Bolshoi Ballet's production of "The Bright Stream," to music by Dimity Shostakovich, and choreography by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov.

Georgie knew the music from recordings, but had never seen the ballet because it was suppressed by the Soviet state after its 1935 opening, and was never performed again until revived by the Bolshoi in 2003. (Shostakovich had generally bad luck with the reception of his major works, and struck out with his ballets. His first,the 1930 "Golden Age," was censored. The second, "The Bolt", 1931, closed after one performance. "The Bright Stream" was surpressed solely for being a comedic ballet, when State policy favored serious drama in all things.)

"The Bright Stream" is the name of a collective farm, or kokholz, in the Caucasus. Zina (Svetlana Lunkina), a former ballet student, lives there with her husband Piotr (Mikhail Lobukhin), an agriculture student. As the ballet opens, they and other members of the collective have come to the train station to welcome members of a ballet company who have been detailed to provide entertainment for Bright Stream's harvest festival. Zina is at first delighted to find that the prima ballerina of the corps (Maria Alexandrova)is her old schoolmate. Together, they dance a piece that they both know, and Zina demonstrates that she still has much of her ability. However, Zina is not delighted when Piotr, smitten with the glamorous ballerina, flirts with her.

Others from the countryside around are invited to the festival, including the comic foils, characters known in the program as "the old Dacha Dweller" (a kulak, or "rich peasant")(Alexei Loparevich)and his wife, "Anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is Dacha Dweller" (Anastasia Vinokur). The old man also makes a strong, if oafish, play for the beautiful dancer, while his wife comes on to the dancer's handsome male partner (Ruslan Skvortsov).

The young women of the kokoltz join forces with the ballet corps in deciding to make fools of both the lustful couple and of Piotr. It is decided that Skvortsov, disguised as a woman, will keep an assignation with the old man; that Alexandrova, disguised as a man, will rendesvous with the old woman; and that Zina, disguised as Alexandrova, will keep a meeting with Piotr, her husband.

These incidents take up the second scene of the first act, and showcase some wonderfully funny dancing and acting. Skvortsov, 'en travestie' makes an unlikely woman, showing, as he does, a thick thatch of chest hair above his low-necked gown. However, the old peasant has lost his glasses stumbling around in the dark and is fooled, and attempts a feeble and clumsy courting dance with the disguised dancer. Things are little better with Alexandrova; the old woman pursues her doggedly. Unlike opera, there are few "breeches" roles in ballet, and it is rare to see a woman dance a man's role. Alexandrova, who had demonstrated ample strength and power in the first scene, does so admirably. At last, pursuing their respective objects of desire, the old man and old woman come across one another, realize the other is up to no good, and an argument ensues that ends with the woman chasing the man off, armed with his antique shotgun.

Zina, dressed in the ballerina's performance costume, which includes a domino mask, meets Piotr and dances a flirtatious dance with him, although the audience can detect her barely restrained anger.

The second act is the festival day. When the ballerina is scheduled to dancer her solo, both she and Zina come out, identically garbed, and dance the piece together. When Zina unmasks, Piotr realizes he has been had, and humbly apologizes to her. They are reconciled, and the ballet ends happily.

The plot action is interspersed with folk-inspired dances by the farmers and townsfolk, set to Shostakovich's lively and happy music.

This was a delightful performance of a ballet we're probably not going to see anywhere else, at least for a while, and we enjoyed it very much.

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Florentine Opera, "Idomeneo"

On Sunday, May 20th, we went to see the Florentine Opera's production of Mozart's first opera, "Idomeneo".

The story of Idomeneo, King of Crete, is one of the many classical stories spun off from that of the Trojan War. Idomeneo is an ally of the Greeks, and has taken and sent home many captives from the Trojan population, including Ilia (Marie-Eve Munger), one of the daughters of King Priam of Troy. the young prince Idamante (Sandra Piques Eddy), ruling Crete in his stead, sets the dispirited captives free and urges them to become part of the Cretan community, an act that sparks love in the heart of Ilia. This ignites jealousy in the heart of the Grecian princess Electra (Georgia Jarman), who has fled to Crete following the murder of her father, Agamemnon, and has promised herself to Idamante.

Idomeneo (Arturo Chacon-Cruz), still at sea, is overtaken by a great storm (probably one of those raised by Poseidon against Ulysses--)and makes the rash vow to the sea-god that, if he is spared from the shipwreck, he will make a sacrifice of the first person he meets ashore.
When he does make it to land, his first encounter is with Idamante, whom he initially does not recognize since he hasn't been home in ten years, and the boy was a child when he left. When he discovers Idamante's identity, he drives him away in horror and shame, not telling what he has promised to do. Idamante is staggered and hurt by his father's seeming rejection.

Idomeneo schemes with his advisers to try to spare Idamante, and decides to send him to Thebes to restore Electra to her father's throne, much to her joy, since her rival, Ilia, will be left behind. However, the voyage is aborted by the advent of a sea monster sent by Poseidon, which wreaks havoc along the Cretan coast.

While Idomeneo dithers, Idamante, hoping for a heroic death to redeem himself in his father's eyes, goes alone to fight the monster, and succeeds in slaying it. When he returns, wounded and covered in the monster's blood, he asks his father for forgiveness of whatever failings Idomeneo sees in him. Idomeneo confesses that the sin is his own, adn admits his vow, to general horror. The priest of Poseidon declares that the sacrifice must be carried out, and Idamante declares that he is willing to be sacrificed to save his people from Poseidon's further wrath.

Idamante lies down on the altar and Idomeneo is about to strike the fatal blow when Ilia offers herself in Idamante's place. Idamante's willingness to be sacrificed, and Ilia's love for a former enemy, move the gods to pity, and an oracular voice is heard, declaring that Idomeneo is forgiven, but must abdicate and Idamante and Ilia will rule Crete together in his place. Electra, mad with jealousy and disappointment, tries to kill Ilia, but is overcome by the king's guards and taken away. The opera ends with a chorus of thanksgiving.

The singing and music were the high points of the opera. Chacon-Cruz and Piques Eddy, in particular, sang beautifully with full, rich voices that filled the hall. Munger and Jarman were also excellent, and were well supported by the rest of the cast and chorus. The cast were also given a number of interesting and subtle acting bits to do. For example, in the first scene, when Idmante orders the Trojan's chains to be struck off, the Trojans then go and bow to their princess, but none go to Idamante or thank him until he himself comes to them. Only gradually, over the course of the opera, do the Trojans and the Cretans intermingle.

This is fortunate, because there's little else to look at. Costuming is low-keyed, with the islander Cretans in modern dress, in colors of sea-green and blue. The Asiatic Trojans are all in dusty orange and brown garments reminiscent of Afghani hill tribes.

The only set pieces were two movable black walls which served as screens for a number of rear-projections intended to illuminate the interior dialog of the characters. While sometimes interesting, they were not equally viewable from all angles, and sometimes undercut their purpose--as has been noted in other reviews, a supposedly romantic close-up in Electra's dream of life with Idamante made it very hard to ignore the fact that Idamante is played by a woman made up as a man.

At other times, the walls acted as background for a shadow play as low lighting cast silhouettes that shifted place and size as the actors moved around, hinting at underlying dynamics. This, however, was not quite enough to relieve the disappointing and dull barrenness of the otherwise empty black stage.

At the performance we heard, the orchestra, under Maestro Joseph Resigno played Mozart's score with power and passion. This was a very interesting opera to listen to. Besides the classical subject matter, one could note the transition Mozart was making from Baroque style to his own style, right in this opera. The first act begins with a lot of down-front solo singing, recalling older operas, but, as the opera goes on, the music moves into the choruses and ensembles which enliven Mozart's operas.

Verdict, lovely to listen to. Not so much to look at.

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