From May to July, St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Opera hosts the White Nights
Festival. One of the most impressive performances that I attended was
Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina, and the most imposing soloist was baritone
Nikolai Putilin, who took on the daunting role of the Boyar Shaklovity. With his
powerful voice and imposing stage presence, he brought out the dynamism of the
This was a performance to cherish.
Another exciting voice in
Khovanshchina was that of great Russian tenor Vladimir Galuzin as Prince Vasily
Khovansky. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov was most convincing in the challenging role of
the priest, Dosifei, who unsuccessfully tried to negotiate peace between the
opposing parties and, in the end, underwent immolation with the other Old
This particular performance marked the jubilees of
mezzo-soprano Larisa Diadkova and bass Sergei Aleksashkin. Diadkiva was an
impressive and impassioned Marfa.
In Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, pride
of place again went to Nikolai Putilin, who took on the title role. His
monologue, when bemoaning the fate of Russia, the capture of his army and the
subjugation of his country by the Tartars, was one of the great moments in the
Here was this consummate artist notching up another triumph
only three days after his unforgettable performance in
Tenor Yevgeny Akimov was very credible as Igor’s son in
this relatively small role.
But his love scene with the Khan’s daughter
was a very tame affair, devoid of passion – unlike the fiery tempestuous
liaisons of Verdi’s and Puccini’s lovers. In Italian and French operas based on
historical themes, interpersonal relationships are paramount; in Russian operas
of this genre, however, these relationships are only secondary to the unfolding
The other stand-out in the performance was Vladimir Vaneyev as the
ungracious brother of Igor’s wife, who tried to mount an insurrection to
overthrow his brother-in-law.
In La Traviata, Viktoria Yastrebova’s
Violetta was a real tour de force. She portrayed the tragic role of the doomed
courtesan to perfection. She successfully floated her high notes but also
exerted wonderful control in the pianissimo passages.
This is a major
voice to be reckoned with.
Equally exciting was baritone Vasily Gerello
as Giorgio Germont. Their interaction in Act 2 produced some of the greatest
singing of the night.
All the above productions were
There was none of the avant-garde currently prevalent in
Europe. One exception was the scintillating new production of Aida at the
Mariinsky Concert Hall. Here, director Daniele Finzi Pasca pulled out all the
stops to give a modern, innovative and riveting production. Towering above the
stage were glass pillars that changed colors. These descended in the final
prison scene to mimic the incarceration of Aida and Ramades. This opera also
featured Mariinsky principal singers. The most impressive was the Amonastro of
baritone Vladislav Sulimsky.
What was missing, however, in both Alfredo
in La Traviata and Ramades in Aida was the passionate lyric Italianate tenor
The Mariinsky orchestra was at its best with Valery Gergiev in
Khovanshchina. Equally stirring and dramatic was the Aida led by Andrei
Petrenko. In Prince Igor, the orchestral accompaniment under Pavel Smelkov was
not as disciplined as when Gergiev was in the pit. Nevertheless, in all the
operas, including La Traviata, the orchestral performance was of a very high
Perhaps the real star in all the performances was the brilliant
Mariinsky choir directed by Andrei Petrenko. Especially notable were its
magnificent bass and baritone sections.
The other main operatic venue of
St. Petersburg is the Mikhailovsky Theater, which also has an illustrious
history and was the site of several notable premieres. I attended a performance
of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Stanislav Gaudasinsky’s staging was classical,
but the penultimate ball scene made spectacular use of chandeliers and draping
curtains. Boris Pinkhasovich in the role of Onegin was the real
Tatiana Ryaguzova as Tatiana delivered a dramatic, impassioned
letter scene, with lovely woodwind and brass orchestral
However, in the more fortissimos passages, she tended to
force her voice. The sonorous bass Andrey Gonyukov as Prince Gremin did a
sterling job in extolling Tatiana’s virtues in his one great aria.