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Posts Tagged ‘Valery Gergiev’

молчание (Silence)

In BBC Proms, Classical Music on August 8, 2013 at 8:52 am

AMENDED – 11 August 2013.

I wasn’t going to write this blog. But the silence of Russian artists over Putin’s vile position on gay rights continues to unsettle me.

I cannot hope to be as eloquent as Stephen Fry and everyone should read his letter to the IOC and David Cameron.

It is inspiring.

Music and politics have always been fused together. From the medieval times, if not before, music was used to demonstrate wealth and power both by the aristocracy as well as the clergy.

Opera – the genre I love above all else – was originally an art form exclusively for the nobility.

By the Eighteenth Century composers, singers and instrumentalists were part of the aristocratic and royal households. Some of the music we all know and love – the quartets, symphonies and masses by Haydn, the early operas by Mozart as well as the music of JS Bach, Handel and countless others – was written specifically for the elevation of either the landed classes and government or priests.

As society changed – as revolutionary and then Romantic ideals swept across Europe – music also came to symbolise, and in some cases personify the great movements that wracked the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. Think of Rouget de Lisle’s Marseillaise, Beethoven’s original intention for the Eroica, the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary operas of France.

And after music itself had been totally liberated from a reliance on patronage, the relationship of power and music remained.

Of course there have been times when music and artists have been ‘appropriated’ – willingly or not – by regimes. Fascism is the example we all can think of. But in the midst of that darkness music also became the path of resistance for some. I think specifically of the music on the haunting recital disc, Terezin-Theresienstadt.

Therefore because of the relationship between power, politics and music, musicians are in a privileged position. Not only in terms of the patronage they received but also the power they themselves have to express on the widest platform their own feelings or the feelings of the wider audience and community.

So it stuns and depresses me that the Russian performers that many of us love and admire – from Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko to Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Marina Poplavskaya – have been so stubbornly silent on the single issue of Vladamir Putin’s vicious, thuggish and – let’s face it – murderous homophobia.

I struggle to think what is stopping these educated people – and all their Russian colleagues and peers – from stepping forward and making their position known.

They cannot ignore the simple fact that Russia boasts some of the greatest artists whose work is still cherished and performed today – and who were gay.

There is an irony that the opening night opera at the Met is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and two of the world’s most eminent performers will be on stage and in the pit that very night.

Of course it could be fear of stepping forward that makes then unable to say anything. Putin is a thug. People have lost their lives opposing him.

Or it could be that they don’t want to lose Putin’s patronage which looking at Gergiev, is clearly munificent.

But what if – and it has to be considered – that the reason they haven’t said anything is because they actually agree with Putin – that they agree with – and support – his ignorant view?

I admit that this is – hopefully – not the case. But it is worth thinking about considering their silence.

And if this is the case, what then?

Surely one of the next questions has to be what are artistic institutions outside Russia prepared to do about it?

Will the Edinburgh Festival ask their Honorary President to clarify his position?

Will Peter Gelb ask Gergiev and Ms Netrebko for their view on LGBT rights in Russia ahead of his opening gala night?

Will the Board of Directors at the London Symphony ask Gergiev ahead of his Prom next Tuesday? Will Tony Hall or Roger Wright at the BBC?

Will Kasper Holten challenge Marina Poplavskaya?

Will their fellow artists – and their labels – also ask the question?

And finally, what will we – the audience – do?

Again it comes down to power. In the digital world we live in, none of us is powerless.

What if we were all to ask these people to clarify their position?

Andrew Rudin has started a petition in advance of the opening of the Met Season. Can they truly ignore everyone?

Stephen Fry puts it bluntly – [Putin] is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews.

If Russia’s artists continue to remain silent, their silence is a sign of their complicity.

Amendment
Anna Netrebko has since issued the following statement:

“As an artist, it is my great joy to collaborate with all of my wonderful colleagues — regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.”

Clearly written by her PR people it’s a meaningless and cowardly statement as it doesn’t address the issue of Putin’s thuggery.

Gergiev’s ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on June 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Review – Die Walküre (Act 1)

Siegmund – Jonas Kaufmann
Sieglinde – Anja Kampe
Hunding – Mikhail Petrenko

Mariinsky Orchestra

Valery Gergiev (Conductor)

Valery Gergiev. In all honesty I can say that he never disappoints in surprising me. When I listen to his recordings or attend a performance of his I am never quite sure what I am getting.

Take his Elektra for example with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet in the title role alongside Angela Denoke, Dame Felicity Palmer, Matthias Goerne and the LSO. Say what you will about Charbonnet’s performance but personally I was completely taken by her total immersion in the character. And Gergiev marshalled his forces with absolute authority, extracting committed performances from each member of the cast and drawing playing from the orchestra that veered – exactly as Strauss wanted – from sheer brutality to wondrous luminosity under his baton.

On the other hand, his Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Edinburgh International Festival was, for me, a fiasco not only in terms of both the production and the quality and level of the musicianship across the board. Not only were the singers, drawn from the Mariinsky Opera, all ill suited to their roles, but Gergiev’s own sense of commitment was lacklustre and distracted.

So when I read that Gergiev was embarking on his first recording of the Ring cycle with Die Walküre, I was initially filled with trepidation.

But let’s face it, if there was an equivalent of a Fantasy Football League for opera – and especially Wagner – lovers, then this cast would the dream team. All credit to Gergiev or the people who work behind the scenes that the assembled cast includeS Jonas Kaufmann, Nina Stemme, Anja Kampe, Mikhail Petrenko and Ekaterina Gubanova.

I have been lucky enough to see both Kaufmann and Stemme perform their roles live either on stage or via live broadcast. Kaufmann in his debut as Siegmund at the Met, and Stemme live in San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle and via broadcast in Krigenberg’s Götterdämmerung.

So to say that my expectations were high is an understatement and on this occasion Gergiev has not only surprised but also surpassed my expectations.

This review has been a long time coming because I have listened to the recording all the way through as well as act-by-act countless times. And – unusually for me – it is act by act that I plan to approach this review.

This is not a recording to be skimmed over and overall, repeated listening has convinced me that it not only stands comparison with some of the most memorable recordings but also in reality, surpasses some of them.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Gergiev has delivered a traditional performance in the best sense. No gimmicks. No fanciful notions or radical re-interpretations. He conducts what’s on the page.

And it is music making of almost the highest standard.

It opens with some beautifully paced and articulate playing in the strings, with just the right hint of menace in brass and winds. And Gergiev handles the dynamics building into the first timpani roll and the subsequent decrescendo masterfully without once dropping the momentum.

And the detail and attention in the phrases leading to Kaufmann’s first entry – you can almost feel his exhaustion in the way Gergiev directs the orchestra – is telling of the whole recording. Each phrase is not only articulate but due care has been given to how they play in the overall fabric of the music.

I don’t intend to go through the recording phrase by phrase or indeed bar by bar but there are some telling moments when it is clear not only that a great deal of love and attention has been lavished on this performance but that Gergiev gives Wagner’s music time to breath.

For example, take the very first exchanges between Siegmund and Sieglinde – not only in the careful and very deliberate molding of Kaufmann and Kampe’s vocal lines but also the carefully judged and beautifully played cello solo.

Or when Siegmund relates his tale of woe to Hunding, Gergiev maintains the taut momentum and doesn’t allow the brass to become too intrusive but generates a real sense of menace through their clear and rhythmically articulated playing.

Siegfried’s subsequent monologue is beautifully delivered. More so that on Kaufmann’s recent recital disc in that Gergiev takes the vocal line beyond the cries of Wälse. They aren’t the more normal ‘final destination’ in the monologue but the momentum generated carries the music through to the next section where singer and conductor balance the lyricism of the vocal line without sacrificing the rhythmic muscularity in the orchestra.

Indeed Gergiev draws some finely attuned playing from the Mariinsky Orchestra, particularly from the reappearance of Sieglinde and into their subsequent ‘love’ scene.

Here there is a sensuality that can often be missing from both from recordings and performances. Sieglinde’s rapture is almost tangible and the singers work together seamlessly in terms of both dramatic impetus and emotional tension.

Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond is most tenderly sung without any loss of focus and as it literally melted into Du bist der Lenz it struck me at how slowly Gergiev seemed to be taking the entire section – giving the music and the words time to breath and fold out.

Kampe, Kaufmann and Gergiev continue to spin the music out, ratcheting up the tension in the both singers and the orchestra almost note by note as first Siegfried’s name is revealed and then Northung itself and then its an almost sexual rush to the closing bars.

Needless to say the three singers – Kampe, Kaufmann and the Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko are magnificent. Vocally there are all on top form and I would be incredibly surprised if this recording was literally a case of them turning up without some time having been spent on rehearsal and coaching. There is an attention to detail, not only in the delivery of the words but, as I have mentioned, also in nuancing of phrasing that makes this recording stand out.

There is a depth and maturity to Kaufmann’s performance as Siegmund that I did not hear at the Met. Of course a lot of this will be to do with this being a studio recording but it is also in no small part to the attention to detail and surely working with Gergiev himself. And there is no hint of strain that seemed to occasionally surface in his recent recital disc. Similarly Petrenko is no mere cipher. His dark, brooding base is full of menace without ever snatching at the notes being sung. And Kampe, who can admittedly sometimes be a little hit and miss, evolves from the downtrodden wife to exultant lover with such vocal and dramatic authority and her soprano is sonorous and even throughout its range.

Indeed so outstanding is this first act in fact, that it’s almost a shame to move on to the Act Two.

2011. The Magic. The Mishaps. The Future.

In Baroque, Beethoven, Classical Music, Gustav Mahler, Handel, JS Bach, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner on December 24, 2011 at 8:24 am

2011. The year that I started this blog to recount my own opinions about performances that I attended and CDs that I listened to.

No one’s opinion – particularly mine – is either right not perfect. Listening to music is an intensely, intensely personal experience. I can sit next to a friend and at the end of performance walk away with a completely reaction and different point of view. And on some occasions following what can be heated discussion my opinion has changed. And I can leave performances I attend alone with one perception and after some thought, or a flash of ‘something’, I have changed my mind. Sometimes completely.

So what I have selected below are the ten events or recordings that have struck me as the most significant performances I have heard in 2011. And five that were disappointing against the original expectation.

Top of a list of ten is a recording – or set of recordings – that even now I return to on a daily basis. Step forward Ricardo Chailly, the GewandhausOrchester Leipzig and their well near perfect performances of Beethoven’s symphonies and overtures. At tempi faster than usually expected, these are lithe, muscular renditions of these great works. But at no point do either Chailly or the GewandhausOrchester sacrifice speed for precision and an acute attention to detail. And as I have said before, the timpanist is a revelation. And of all the symphonies, the ‘Eroica’ is my personal favourite and I was fortunate enough to see them perform this symphony during their visit to London. And in 2012 I plan to visit Leipzig and see them on their home turf.

Needless to say, you haven’t purchased this set already then I can’t recommend it enough.

Next to Munich for Richard Jones’ production of Lohengrin in July. I had originally hoped to see both Adrienne Pieczonka and Waltraud Meier in the two female roles, and while Emily Magee more than respectably replaced Ms Pieczonka as Elsa, it was very much Meier’s evening. Her Ortrud was a masterful character study of pure malevolence. As I remarked at the time, there was something almost Shakespearean in the way that Jones revealed the character not only of Ortrud but of her husband, Telramund played magnificently by Evgeny Nikitin. Indeed even when she was not singing, Ms Meier held the complete attention of the audience. Jones direction was masterful not only in its attention to detail – there were some incredibly thought-provoking moments – but also in the way he also captured the grand sweep of emotion as well. The ending – not the traditional one of redemption – is not one I will forget in a hurry.

Another unforgettable evening of Wagner – at the other end of the spectrum – was Opera North’s semi-staged production of Das Rheingold at the Lowry Theatre on Salford Quays. From the moment Richard Farnes – in a moment of simple yet effective theatrical magic – lifted his baton and raised the waves of the Rhine itself, it was a near perfect performance. The singers were without a single weakness and if I am to salute just a few then without doubt they are the Fricka of Yvonne Howard, Lee Bisset’s Freia, the Rhinemaidens one and all – Jeni Bern, Jennifer Johnston and Sarah Castle – and the brilliant Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Loge. And special mention of Peter Mumford and his exceptionally elegant and effective lighting. This was a performance of Das Rheingold that outshone many I have seen by some of the so-called ‘major’ opera companies and some of that credit is due to the artistic consultancy of Dame Anne Evans. I have a ticket to their production of Die Walküre next year and do not doubt that it will be of the same incredible high standard.

Staying with The Ring, next is Hamburg Opera’s production of Die Walküre (April). General Manager and conductor Simone Young drew incredibly rich and opulent music making from both the orchestra and the singers. Without a doubt this was music that Young both loved deeply and knew inside out. It reminded me in so many ways of Reginald Goodall’s approach to Wagner – majestic, informed and intuitive and with a real attention to the orchestral detail and sensitive to the singers. And the case was incredibly strong. Angela Denoke and Katarina Dalayman were Sieglinde and Brunnhilde respectively but the real revelation for me that evening was Lilli Paasikivi as Fricka. For the first time her confrontation with Wotan in the Second Act became a central focus of the unfolding drama as never before in productions I had seen. Even the production and direction – having seen Gotterdammerung the previous year – was strong. As I said at the time, each action was investing in meaning and the set – while incredibly simply – was completely integrated in the narrative. The Hamburg Opera will perform their complete Ring Cycle in 2012 and I am hoping that I can get the time to see it.

Unexpectedly, Mahler appears twice in my lists of performances. The first is a memorable performance of his Resurrection Symphony by the BBC Philharmonic under their new Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mena. The BBC Philharmonic sounds exceptional – European – at the moment, which is due to their stewardship under Noseda and this is set to continue under Mena. His approach to Mahler’s Second Symphony was one of architectural clarity with an almost Latin-lilt. It’s a shame that it hasn’t be caught for future listening on a CD.

Renée Fleming’s recent performance of the Vier Letzte Lieder under the baton of Christoph Eschenbach crowned a great year of performances for me. As with their 1999 recording, the pair took a valedictory approach with tempi that revelled in the lush sound world created by Strauss. Eschenbach – bar a few small glitches – drew some glorious playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra but Fleming dominated with an intensely personal and intelligent performance, her warm burnished tone, with a new resonance to her bottom notes, making for a memorable evening.

Kasper Holten soon arrives at Covent Garden and I was fortunate to catch his final production at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen. Die Frau ohne Schatten is an incredibly difficult listen and – with its dense storyline – complicated to direct effectively. However Holten, with his manga-noir set managed to negotiate the audience clearly through the story as well as effectively highlight the underlying psychology woven in. On the whole the singers were incredibly strong and Michael Schønwandt and the orchestra were marvellous in the pit. I think that Holten will be a refreshing and inspiring creative change for Covent Garden.

Il Complesso Barocco, led by Alan Curtis and a cast including the incredible Joyce DiDonato, Karina Gauvin and Marie Nicole Lemieux brought a musically stunning concert performance of Ariodante to London in May. Curtis’ troupe recording all of Handel’s opera – Giulio Cesare is next in 2012 – and this performance marked the release of Ariodante on CD. Needless to say while the charismatic and accomplished Ms DiDonato stole the show it was an incredible night. Each and every soloist sparked off each other to create some brilliant music making and the discovery – for me – of Sabina Puértolas. Definitely someone to watch.

Strauss Vier Letzte Lieder are placed twice in my top ten of 2011. This time a recording both by an unexpected soprano and which was an unexpected pleasure. Martina Arroyo – more commonly associated with Verdian roles recorded the songs with Gunter Wand. Her incredibly rich voice was well suited to Strauss and she more than managed the soaring vocal line and was sensitively supported by Wand.

And finally this year wouldn’t have been complete without regular delving into the cantatas of JS Bach. While it is better to listen to them in their entirety, the beauty of Gardiner’s exemplary and recordings with the Monteverdi players and singers and the wonder of shuffle means that many a happy hour has been spent waiting to see what random and revelatory track my iPod will play next. Wonderful.

But of course not all performances and recordings were as memorable. Or were memorable for the wrong reasons.

So here are my top five ‘turkeys’ of 2011. In brief.

Top of the list is the Marrinsky Opera production of Die Frau ohne Schatten as part of the Edinburgh Festival. Jonathan Kent’s production had some moments of intelligence but the whole thing was completely destroyed by what can only be described – bar Nikolai Putilin’s Barak – as very poor singing indeed. And Valery Gergiev’s conducting was nothing short of disappointing. I am still waiting for Mr Gergiev to send me a refund.

Next Maazel’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth symphony, which drew his cycle of the symphonies to an end. His meandering approach made for a lacklustre evening that couldn’t even be salvaged by a strong line up of singers. Indeed, with Maazel intent it seemed on working again the soloists, only Sarah Connolly acquitted herself with any success.

My final three choices all hail from my trips this year to the US – to New York and San Francisco. First, a shoddy performance of Il Trovatore at the Met where it seemed that Peter Gelb had made the decision to attract an audience with casting that couldn’t deliver for box office receipts. I don’t think I will ever want to risk seeing or hearing Dolora Zajick on stage again.

Next – and perhaps surprisingly – I have selected the San Francisco Ring cycle. It goes without saying that Nina Stemme as Brunnhilde was absolutely magnificent and for her alone it was worth the journey. In the singing stakes she was joined by Ronnita Miller as both Erda and Norn and a promising Siegmund by Brandon Jovanovich. However the remaining singers were generally not up to it and Donald Runnicles was completely uninspiring in the pit, generating mediocre and bland playing from the orchestra. And yet the most frustrating element was Francesca Zambello’s often lazy, ill-thought through direction. Promising to deal with the ‘real issues’ facing the US, instead she produced a sugar-coated production clearly more suited to placating San Francisco’s rich donors than forcing them to confront reality.

And finally, Robert LePage’s Die Walküre. Again this was not about the singing which was on the whole, superlative. While Deborah Voigt might not be the best Brunnhilde, she delivered a great performance as did Terfel, Westbroek and – on the whole – Kaufmann. And special mention to the incredibly human portrayal of Fricka by Stephanie Blythe. Less a goddess bent on revenge than a wife trying to save a marriage. But the staging, I felt, hindered the singers and became the main attraction, adding nothing to the narrative or underlying messages of Wagner’s opus, but rather merely a backdrop for some rather ineffective and distracting special effects.

So what of 2012? Well looking at my bookings so far, or which I have few, it seems to be a year of Tristan und Isolde. I am seeing it twice in Berlin, including a concert performance with Nina Stemme under Janowski as part of his plans to record all of Wagner’s operas. I am also off to the Millennium Centre to see Welsh National Opera’s production as well. Later in the year I have Opera North’s production of Die Walküre to look forward to as well as their new production of Giulio Cesare.

Other plans include hopefully Hamburg Opera’s Ring Cycle, Renée Fleming in Arabella in Paris and a trip to Leipzig for the GewandhausOrchester.

No plans for anything at English National Opera just yet. I was tempted by Der Rosenkavalier but I have seen the production and while I love the opera I don’t think it warrants a return.

And Covent Garden? Not their Ring Cycle. Once was enough. Perhaps Don Giovanni as I haven’t seen a production of it in a while.

And next year I intend to listen to one completely new piece of music at least every fortnight. So suggestions are most welcome.

So a merry Christmas to one and all and here is to an exciting, enjoyable and thought provoking 2012.

Vacant Valery & His Kinder-Egg-Emperor

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on September 3, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Die Frau ohne Schatten (Mariinsky Opera, Edinburgh, Friday 2 September 2011)

The Empress – Elena Nebera
The Emperor – Avgust Amonov
Barak – Nikolai Putilin
The Dyer’s Wife – Ekaterina Popova
The Nurse – Elena Vitman
A Spirit Messenger – Evgeny Ulanov
Barak’s Brothers – Andrei Popov/Andrei Spekhov/Nikolai Kamensky
Voice of the Falcon – Tatiana Kravtsova

Original Director – Jonathan Kent
Revival Director – Lloyd Brown
Design – Paul Brown
Video & Projection Design – Sven Ortel, Nina Dunn
Conductor – Valery Gergiev

An overwhelming sense of disappointment. Not the best ending to a night at the opera – particularly after the excitement of the first night – but it’s the only way to describe how the Mariinsky Opera production of Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten left me as I walked away from the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. All the more so following the inspired – if sometimes flawed production – I enjoyed in Copenhagen a few months back.

On paper the billing was promising. Having seen Gergiev conduct many times before – including an extraordinary Elektra at the Barbican with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet – and the promise of an intelligent production from Jonathan Kent, the augurs were good. Of course with any Mariinsky production you expect some of the singers to be hit and miss, but nothing can – in my mind – account for last night. The Mariinsky is probably unsurpassed in terms of their Russian repertoire and I’ve only read about their faulty staging of The Ring. But their decision to stage this Strauss opera needs either major improvement or total abandonment.

It’s a shame as the production itself had some interesting features but ultimately they didn’t knit together cohesively, almost ended in farce, and undermined von Hofmannsthal’s original intentions. When I was young I had a book of Russian fairytales – including Baba Yaga and The Frog Princess – illustrated by Ivan Bilibin and it’s clear that Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown were similarly inspired by Russian tales as well as by the chinoiserie movement for the spirit world of the Emperor and Empress with it’s oversized flowers and golden statuesque beasts. However perhaps the fly-eyes on the hapless Falcon would have been better left to Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon. The use of projections – and a general theme of water – implied that this kingdom was underwater. In stark contrast the world of Barak and his wife was as clearly set in modern day – presumably – Russia, with launderette-style washing machines and a suitably grey and crumbling work/home environment.

As I said there were some nice touches. During the first dream sequence in the Dyer’s home, for example, harem handmaidens came out of the washing machines and the use of footage of babies against the wall of the Dyer’s how was effective. On the other hand there was some choreography that was misjudged – in the opening scene the movements of the Emperor’s guardsmen made me think of nothing less than those of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard Of Oz. Perhaps that was the intention.

As in Copenhagen‘s much more effective production, the Mariinsky used projections throughout the operas to effect both scene changes (some of which featured noisy stage hands barking orders at one another) as well as to add to the drama unfolding on the stage. The falcon and flocks of bird featured heavily as did a vocabulary of rolling clouds, waves and water. Apart from a desire to see more variation in the flocks of birds, the projections were generally effectively used – Francesca Zambello take note – and in particular the sunburst reaching down into the water the final scenes was almost – but not quite – breathtaking.

While the setting of the first two acts were traditional almost to the point of predictability, the final act was confused, contrived and ultimately almost farcical. Opening quite literally with the world ‘upside down’ – or indeed underwater although this wasn’t entirely clear – Barak’s car and a tree, both upended, were gradually joined by other ephemera from both the real and spirit world. Against this backdrop the Dyer and his wife wandered aimlessly across an empty set until they eventually disappeared into the background to be replaced by The Empress who took to the stage, amid golden light and glitter and what can only be described as a misshapen plastic ‘egg’. Clearly this was meant to entomb the petrified Emperor, but I don’t think I have ever encountered anything as incongruous, clumsy and so simply badly judged on stage for some time. It reminded me of nothing less than the Kinder Eggs I used to have when I was a child. After it had been subjected to intense heat. No amount of grace could enable any singer to emerge from this deformed Perspex ovoid with any grace and dignity and the moment was only saved by the clever use of lighting to create the Empress’ shadow.

Yet the effect was broken at the end as the back of the stage opened up to enable a crowd of Russians to amble like zombies to face the audience. Clearly they were meant to be Russian as there were men in uniform amongst them – either a clumsy tribute to Gergiev’s protector Putin or a simple reminder of the continued power of Russia’s military state.

It was a relief when the curtain fell.

In terms of the singing, it was almost uniformly bad. Overall not only was their German poor and their diction dire, but the quality of the singing itself left a great deal to be desired. The stand-out performer was Nikolai Putilin’s Barak. His deep and resonant bass, rich and even throughout and coupled with a real sense of musicianship and knowledge of the role, showed little strain even by the end and mostly rose above the clamour Gergiev and the orchestra were making in the pit. Apart from Putilin, the rest of the ensemble struggled both with their roles and against their own limited talents. ‘Next best’ but leagues behind her husband, was the Dyer’s Wife of Ekaterina Popova. While she has a large voice she seemed unable in the first two acts, to control either her intonation or dynamic range. While she fortunately rallied for her short scene at the opening of the Third Act, this is clearly not a role suited to her voice. The same is true of Elena Nebera’s performance as The Empress. Again she has a rich soprano voice but didn’t seem to be in complete control of her own instrument, leading to both intonation problems and an acute inability to sing Strauss’ fluid lines. She also had a troubling habit of stopping for a split second before attempting any note above the stave. Avgust Amonov’s Emperor was poor from the start. Weedy and strained vocally, he cracked from his opening scene and never recovered. Drowned by the orchestra – not completely his own fault – this is not a role he should have in his repertoire and I am equally surprised – or is it horrified? – to see Cavaradossi, Calaf and Siegmund among his other roles. I shudder to think.

In the smaller replies, Evgeny Ulanov was an accomplished Spirit Messenger but Tatiana Kravtsova was simply miscast as The Voice of the Falcon. She failed to annunciate the words, negotiate the vocal line or create any sense of drama. Again she bills herself as a Violetta – not a role I would want to sit through.

But of them all Elena Vitman’s The Nurse was the worse. Over and above the dreadful ham acting – Ms Vitman, there must be more in your acting vocabulary than hand wringing – she simply didn’t have the vocal capabilities for this demanding role which requires an innate sense of musicianship and strong characterisation rather than the vamped up pantomime portrayal she delivered. For a role that is almost excessive in its vocal demands and almost constantly on stage, who at the Mariinsky thought Ms Vitman was a suitable choice? Her voice was ungainly, uncontrolled, out of tune and on more than one occasion when it became too much for her, she resorted to something resembling bad sprechstimme. Appalling.

The various choruses – adult and children alike – were lacklustre and indistinct in their singing and again intonation problems abounded.

So this leaves us with ‘Maestro’ Gergiev and the orchestra. As I said at the beginning I have seen him conduct many times and remember a particularly spectacular Elektra at the Barbican with Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet and the LSO. His Die Frau was poor – devoid of the passion and insight for which he is renowned and indeed whenever I looked toward him there was a single look on his face – of vacantcy. There was no sense of finesse in the playing and the orchestra seemed to have one volume – loud – which was coupled with some cloudy brass playing and dodgy intonation from the strings. The opening of the Second Act, where Strauss wrote some particularly ravishing music for solo cello and strings that looks forward to Metamorphosen, was particularly lacklustre and bland and the closing bars of the final act were ragged and messy. It was almost as if Gergiev hadn’t looked at the score since the Mariinsky last toured with it, if in fact he had studied it at all.

One wonders whether Gergiev – already so greedily over-committed for the sole purpose of self-aggrandisement – is a good choice as President of the Festival? Will it mean more mediocre performances from the Mariinsky Opera and other companies that he is associated with? A cultural suffocation of the Festival to appease and satisfy his ego?

Of course, this isn’t the first – and won’t be the last – time that I attend a performance that is disappointing. However, the majority of the time, even the most disappointing productions have redeeming features – a smart director that makes you think, a reasonable cast of singers, an intelligent conductor.

Not on this occasion. Mr Gergiev, can I have a refund please?

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