Damir Yusupov/The Bolshoi Theater

(Valeria Paikova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the headlines, 10/21/2021.)

Russia gave the world not only ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘War and Peace’, but also some larger-than-life operas, as well. Don’t miss a chance to see them in the new season!

1. ‘Boris Godunov’ at the Metropolitan Opera (New York City, United States)

In terms of the depth and subtlety of psychological analysis, Modest Mussorgsky could definitely rival Fyodor Dostoevsky or Leo Tolstoy.

In ‘Boris Godunov’, he proved himself not only as a great composer and librettist, but also as a visionary far ahead of his time. Mussorgsky broke new ground in that he actually chose to highlight the dramatic conflict between the tsar and the people in this historical operatic blockbuster. The Russian composer went as far as to actually give the people the lead role in ‘Boris Godunov’. 

The Metropolitan Opera aptly describes Mussorgsky’s masterpiece as “a pillar of the Russian repertoire”, noting that the performance has been staged in its original 1869 version. Stephen Wadsworth’s production, with German bass René Pape as the title character in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’, depicts the “hope and suffering of the Russian people as well as the tsar himself”.

2. ‘The Queen of Spades’ at La Scala (Milan, Italy)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s grim tale of passion and greed is widely considered the pinnacle of his artistic achievement. With the libretto composed by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, the masterwork is based on Alexander Pushkin’s mystical short story, ‘The Queen of Spades’.

It has it all: passion, obsession, fear and fire. 

The opera is set in 18th century St. Petersburg and revolves around an unfortunate young man named Herman, who is obsessed with gambling. Herman also seems to be in love with the charming Lisa, whose grandmother, an old Countess, knows the secret of the “three winning cards”. Herman takes his obsession with gambling too far and things quickly go off the rails. 

Staged by Matthias Hartmann, ‘The Queen of Spades’ stars mesmerizing Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as the Countess and Russian tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Herman.

Russian tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov

In the new season, Tchaikovsky’s grandest opera will be conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev.

3. ‘Sadko’ at the Bolshoi Theater (Moscow, Russia)

‘Sadko’ is, by far and large, Russia’s musical answer to Homer’s ‘Odysseus’. All modesty aside, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov gave his work quite an unusual genre definition – an epic opera.

'Sadko' at the Bolshoi Theater

Indeed, the prolific composer created a musical score of epic proportions, which requires an exceptional cast of performers and a nontrivial solution to setting the blockbuster opera. In ‘Sadko’, dramatic mass scenes alternate with heartfelt lyrical episodes, characterized by the exquisite beauty of the melodies. The opera focuses on Sadko, a young musician who dreams about incredible adventures and overseas travel. Sadko decries wealthy merchants for boasting and bluster, but the wandering artist will have to put his words into action after the fateful with the Tsar of the Sea. Charismatic tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov, who has performed at the Royal Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, nails it as Sadko in the trailblazing production staged by Dmitri Tcherniakov.

4. ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Vienna State Opera (Vienna, Austria)

Tchaikovsky was a true original, who never followed the crowd. So, instead of a story boasting “tsars, tsarinas, uprisings, battles and marches”. Tchaikovsky said he needed an intimate human drama with universal appeal. With the inner world of the characters in mind, Tchaikovsky created his signature “lyrical scenes in three acts”, featuring an ideal combination of pathos, drama and dignity.

‘Eugene Onegin’, based on Pushkin’s famous novel in verse, focuses on a young and sentimental woman, Tatiana Larina, who naively declares her love to a self-centered man. Eugene Onegin, who is cold as a fish, rejects Tatiana’s love and continues to live his life to the full. When he realizes that he might have missed the love of his life, it’s already too late. 

Andre Schuen as Onegin and Nicole Car as Tatyana.

Cutting-edge director and set designer Dmitri Tcherniakov creates an atmosphere of dramatic movement at the Vienna State Opera, with baritone Andre Schuen’s Onegin and Nicole Car’s Tatyana sharing charisma on stage.

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