An atypical leader

Presenting "Falstaff" in Tel Aviv, Cyrill Serebrennikov is not your average opera director.

falstaff play cyrill 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
falstaff play cyrill 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Cyrill Serebrennikov, one of Russia's foremost young directors, is not what you might expect of an opera director. The 37 year-old, currently directing the Kirov Theater's presentation of Falstaff at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, has succeeded in his position despite his inability to read music. With acclaimed works on the stage, cinema and TV to his credit, Serebrennikov is a physicist by training, who graduated with honors from Rostov State University. But arts school was never on the agenda. Though he admittedly has musical limitations, Serebrennikov does not think he missed much by not attending a school for the arts. "I just learned the opera by heart, I did not have any other choice," he tells The Jerusalem Post nonchalantly. "I had a Herbert von Karayan recording of the opera in my iPod and for a year, and I started each and every day with the music from Falstaff. Now I know the most minute details of the opera and I have uncovered quite a few interesting things. The score is very theatrical. In this opera, you do not find concert numbers. Arias, duets and ensembles sound rather like monologues and conversations in a Chekhov plays. This made my task easier because I know how to direct plays." Indeed, this version of Falstaff is rather theatrical, and has been criticized by some for its unusually modern approach. "Since the 17th century the very nature of comedy has changed, so to make people laugh today, we needed to add a contemporary touch. So we placed the story into a not-so-definite period, something like 1970s. "In my vision, Sir John Falstaff is the last romanticist, the last generous person in a brutal bourgeois world. He dies at the end of the opera, because there's no place for him in the new reality." A new reality exists not only in Falstaff, but also in the world of Russian stage productions, which are being tailored to meet the demands of a changing audience with different expectations. "I cannot pretend that the audience in Moscow is the same as in western Europe, where people queue for the tickets for several hours and then view complicated pieces," explains Serebrennikov. "My audience will not care for a 17th century story. They need to recognize their own neighbors [on the stage]. Russian society of today is not a solid one. It is in a state of intellectual ferment now and it creates many possibilities for artists to do interesting work. It's like during war, as cynical as it sounds, there's plenty of work for a doctor." That said, Serebrennikov together with his colleagues, are working to nurture a new generation of both spectators and artists. "We are working on a new international theater festival in Moscow. We will bring works here that have never been seen here, and we are also planning to bring in 250 theater students from the Russian periphery, to give them an opportunity to see these productions as well." Falstaff, by Verdi, performed by soloists, choir and orchestra of Kirov (Marinsky) Theater runs at TAPAC through March 30.