'Onegin,' 'Boris Godunov' performed in concert by Mariinsky Opera and Orchestra
With the globe-straddling Valery Gergiev as artistic and general director, the Mariinsky -- known as the Kirov during the communist era -- has enjoyed renewed attention and admiration. One of the coolest things about its visits is the opportunity to experience the value of an old-fashioned ensemble-style company, with a reliable, resident troupe of singers who switch back and forth from major to minor roles with ease and (apparently) grace. Before the jet age started, this sort of family-style company was much more common. There's a lot to be said for such cohesiveness.
The 2010 Kennedy Center programming shows some signs of fiscal restraint. There's only one staged opera this time, but hardly a low-budget item: Prokofiev's suitably large-scale "War and Peace," March 6 and 7. This week, two concerts of opera excerpts will be offered -- a Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov evening March 3; a sample of Tchaikovsky works March 4 (with high-profile soprano Anna Netrebko in scenes from "Iolanta").
The Mariinsky visit opened last weekend with two operas presented in concert form, Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov."
The "Onegin" cast on Friday night featured what might be considered one of the company's 'B' roster of artists, but the lack of star power did not dim the solid musical values, the palpable sense of involvement in the drama (even without scenery or costumes, there was a good amount of genuine acting displayed by the principals on the edge of the stage).
Gergiev conducted, as he prefers to do, without a podium. In a few passages of the score, he didn't seem terribly engaged, allowing phrases to plod along, and he failed to secure totally tight playing from the orchestra (I got the impression the musicians were simply tired). But most of the opera came vividly to life nonetheless; Gergiev had the softest, subtlest moments communicating with great poetic impact.
Alexey Markov sang the title role with a firm baritone and increasingly powerful phrasing. As Tatyana, Irina Mataeva's voice tended to turn edgy at the top, but her singing was otherwise lovely in tone and expressive shading. Sergey Semishkur revealed a youthful sound and affectingly ardent style in the role of Lensky. Mikhail Petrenko offered considerable tonal warmth and smoothness in Prince Gremin's aria. There was character-rich vocalism from Ekaterina Semenchuk (Olga), Andrey Popov (Triquet), Svetlana Vitman (Larina) and Elena Vitman (Nurse).
Sunday afternoon's performance of "Boris" was to have been conducted, like everything else in this DC visit, by Gergiev, but he got called to Vancouver to participate in closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics. In his place stepped
Evgeny Nikitin gave a noble account of the title role. Whatever he lacked in depth and roundness of tone, he made up for with interpretive weight; the hallucination and death scenes were sung with particularly gripping force. Petrenko was again impressive, this time as Pimen. Dmitri Voropaev sang the Fool's lament eloquently (too bad that, in this version of the score, the lament did not return as the opera's final, haunting word). The rest of the large cast delivered effectively.
AFP/GETTY PHOTO (by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images) OF VALERY GERGIEV AT CLOSING CEREMONY OF WINTER OLYMPICS IN VANCOUVER