BIG IS BEAUTIFUL
In these times of glasnost, The Bolshoi, the largest and most theatrical opera company in the world, perform in the United Kingdom for the first time. Carol Main takes a look.
n Russian, quite simply, Bolshoi means big. For the rest of us, without even a smattering of the language, the very name has an untouchable aura. But for the first time ever. the Bolshoi Opera is to become accessible to mass British audiences.
With the combined opera, ballet and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, no less than 450 singers, dancers, musicians and technicians are travelling to Scotland for two of the company’s finest productions — Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada and The Maid of Orleans by Tchaikovsky. Neither has been seen before outside Moscow. It is the largest company in the world.
Behind the company’s visit to Glasgow is the City Council and the 1990 Festivals’ Director, Bob Palmer, but at the moment it is the Bolshoi Tour Manager David Peacock who is most closely involved with what is going on amid the mass of preparations needed in Glasgow before the company arrives. ‘Eventually,’ he says, ‘it will all be pulled together in a period of less than a week. The full company arrives on 1 August and the first night is on 3 August. Yes, it’s cutting it fine.’ The secret is that while they’re in the theatre, the company shouldn’t know the difference between Glasgow and Moscow. ‘The theatre here’, explains Peacock, ‘will be as near a reproduction as possible of their own theatre at home. It will be set exactly as it is in Moscow, with all the same scenery, dimensions, lighting, props, costumes and everything that they are used to. Valery Levental, the designer, and his technicians have already been over to work on the theatre
conversion and, ifit works. it will be just like playing at home.’
Equally, audiences ought to feel transported from Glasgow and to a sense of experiencing the Bolshoi Opera as it would be in Moscow. ‘The thing that’s really going to excite’ says Peacock, ‘is the sheer scale and style of it all. It’s the old-fashioned spectacle ofopera that no-one in the world does as they do it. Not even houses like La Scala. Do you know they are one of the few houses who still paint all their own scene ry'?’
The first opera, Mlada, was described by its composer, Rimsky-Korsakov, as ‘a fairytale opera-ballet’. Hardly surprisingly. as it involves over 300 performers, it is a complete rarity. having been staged only three times (and each. according to the Bolshoi’s director Boris Pokrovski, unsuccessfully) although a concert performance — the first in the U K — last May at London’s Barbican with the LSO. met with great critical acclaim. Bob Palmer. who has been to Moscow to see both operas describes Mlada as ‘extraordinary — and one of the very few opera-ballets in existence. The scale of the piece is such that it not only requires epic forces. but very, very detailed choreography.’
Looking for the story line. however. requires hard work. ‘It’s very difficult to discern the beginning, middle or end’. says Palmer. ‘lt’s more a series of images about transformations with reality becoming a ghost-like vision, so it needs the visual interpretation of Levental’s designs to explain what is happening.’ But audiences should not worry too much about following the action: ‘When I showed Levental my synopsis after I’d seen Mlada’. he continues. ‘he said that he’d never understood the story either!’ Musically. there is inﬂuence from Wagner ( Rimsky had been highly impressed with a touring production of The Ring) and, for example. in the procession of princes, much ofthe colour and richness of
The Tchaikovsky. is based on the story ofJoan of Arc, using the text by Schiller. According to Levental, ‘It stands out as not fitting within the frame ofthe ordinary type of opera. but is.'rather. an oratorio with solo arias and unfolding symphonic fragments.’ Again. the music is not well known. with only a couple of the arias being regularly sung. ‘What sustains the production’ says Palmer ‘is the very imaginative designs and again Levental has done something quite exceptional. He recreates different scenes by ﬂying in a cloth of an entire scene. whether an invasion of soldiers or Joan alone in the monastery.’ He describes director Boris Pokrovski as ‘the doyen of Russian opera’ and his stage choreography as ‘quite magnificent. The chorus don’t just stand there and sing. but they don’t act either. They are moving as one would move people for a photograph.’
‘When we first discussed the project over two years ago’, says Palmer, ‘1 was keen to have one of the old war horses. such as Prince Igor or Eugene ()negin. but Lazerev and Levental said that these were dated and show the old Bolshoi. Instead, they are bringing productions which they feel are making a statement about the Soviet Union in the l99()s.’
Bolshoi Opera, Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. Glasgow. Hindu—3, 4. 5 and 6August; The Maid of()r/euns— 10. I] and 12 August. 7pm. £l()—£75. 'l’iekets: 227551] ( 'I‘ieket C entre, Candleriggs). See ('lassiea/ Listings. Playhouse Theatre. Edinburgh. The Duenna» 14. 15 and 16 August. 7pm. £5 £33. Tickets: 225 5756
(EIF Box Office). .41
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