Saturday, October 18, 2014

Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met: A Comedy with a Spin

On Thursday night the Metropolitan Opera was packed from the orchestra to the family circle. A new season opening production of Mozart’s timeless comic gem Le Nozze di Figaro brought to life by first-tier vocalists under the baton of legendary James Levine must have been on the whole New York’s must-see-no-matter-what list.
Based on Pierre Beaumarchais’ comedy The Mad Day or The Marriage of Figaro (a sequel to the famous Barber of Seville) Mozart’s opera revolves around one insane day, the day that takes both the masters and their servants of the Almaviva household through the trials of love and seduction, suspicion and jealousy, intrigue and deceit, disguise and revelation. At the end of the day lessons are learned, conflicts are resolved and couples are reunited.

In his treatment of Le Nozze di Figaro, the British stage director Richard Eyre gave Mozart’s comedy an unusual spin. Quite literally, in fact, since the production’s main (and only) set– an 18th century manor house with elaborate Moorish wall designs – was mounted on a rotating turntable, providing for both smooth transitions between the scenes and an opportunity to watch several actions taking place in different rooms at the same time. While the set emphasized the headspinning whirlwind of the events onstage, Rob Howell's elegant suits and figure-fitting dresses of the 1930s (the "sexually charged" years that Eyre had chosen to set his production in) added a bold twist to the opera. Yet, a big part of the production's success had to be attributed to the dynamic team of well-matched artists who joined forces to breathe new life into Mozart's comic masterpiece.

Baritone John Del Carlo and soprano Susanne Mentzner, the most comic duo of the production, portrayed Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina with musicality and humor, spicing their performance up with elements of farce.
Making her house debut as Countess Almaviva this season, soprano Amanda Majeski offered some floating moments in her rendition of Porgi amor, along with secure acting, as her heroine found strength and courage to stand up to her philandering husband and teach him a lesson.
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was hilarious as hormone-driven page Cherubino, yet managed to add a certain depth to her character in her sensual mellow-toned account of Voi che sapete.
Baritone Peter Mattei’s lustrous tone paid dividends all evening. Known for his deep nuanced vocalism and sophisticated acting, Mattei delivered his showcase aria Hai già vinta la causa! with so much noble grandeur and genuine indignation that for a moment it was hard to stay focused on the fact that his character was the opera’s baddie, hence did not deserve compassion.

The biggest triumph of the evening, however, belonged to the two leads, bass Ildar Abdrazakov and soprano Marlis Petersen. From the very first notes of the famous duet Cinque… Dieci…, in which the happy couple dreams of their future together while Figaro measures the space for their bridal bed (in Eyre's production Figaro measured parts of the bed prior to building it), sparks flew between the two. Their spontaneous youthful humor, fiery energy and sexy flirtation kept the audience on the edge of their seats all evening long.
Ildar Abdrazakov (Figaro) and Marlis Petersen (Susanna)
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
A true engine of the opera, Petersen’s smart, spirited and confident Susanna set everyone and everything around her in motion. Matching her exciting, accurate vocalism with a knack of flamboyant theatrics, the artist brought downright sexuality to her role, as Susanna provoked the lustful Count and led him on only to expose him to ridicule in the opera’s finale.
Marlis Petersen (Susanna) and Peter Mattei (Count Almaviva)
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
Yet, later in the opera Petersen revealed a far more poetic side of her heroine in her rendition of Deh vieni, non tardar. While her tone boasted a sheer luminous quality in the beginning of the aria, as the music progressed, the artist indulged us in warm undertones of burnished gold, giving the piece the seductive quality of a serenade. This was one of the most breathtaking moments of the production.

Bass Ildar Abdrazakov portrayed Figaro with vocal brilliance and an abundance of comic action. In spite of his illness, of which it was announced prior to the beginning of the show, the artist soldiered right on, nailing one number after another with virtuosic ease and agility, boasting refined phrasing and endless tonal variety in his rendition of Non più andrai.
Yet, there was a lot more to this Figaro than great vocalism and acting. Using every opportunity provided by the score and the libretto, Abdrazakov created a complex character, allowing us to become witnesses to his psychological transformation. 
Ingenuous and naïve (especially in the beginning of the opera), his Figaro was an endless fount of humor, as he happily jumped into the arms of his newly found father (Doctor Bartolo) or tiptoed across the stage with fluttering arms, miming the movements of Saint-Saëns Dying Swan. However, as suspicion and jealousy crept deeper into Figaro's heart, Abdrazakov’s character changed. Filling his Aprite un po' quegli occhi with irony and bitterness (he performed the aria with a flashlight in his hand, as if probing the darkness to discover all the unfaithful women out there), the artist added deep dark undertones to his dramatic singing. 
Ildar Abdrazakov (Figaro)
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
Even in the opera’s finale, as the truth finally came out and all the worries went away, Abdrazakov’s Figaro never went back to the trusting young man we had met at the beginning of the opera. Having pushed the memories of his recent doubts and sufferings to the back of his mind, this Figaro arrived at the opera’s finale a wise and mature man.

As the artists' voices blended in a sublime unison in the rendition of the opera's final (and most breathtaking) ensemble Ah, tutti contenti, performed with a barely audible touch of sadness, it became clear that Figaro’s transformation was not the only change that had taken place onstage that evening. The events of the mad day made an impact on each Mozart’s character turning each into a new person.
As I joined the diverse colorfully-dressed crowd on my way out of the theater, I suddenly realized the true meaning of the spin in Eyre's production. It was bigger than the revolving set and the unusual time setting, bigger than the characters’ sparkling humor and sexy actions. The spin of Eyre’s production (or was it the spin that Eyre had read between the lines of Mozart's timeless score?) was about us, people with strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences, and the major transformation that each person eventually goes through in order to discover his or her new self.

Le Nozze di Figaro runs through December 20th at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Interview: Ildar Abdrazakov

Photographed by Julia Borodina

Last week I had an opportunity to interview the artist whose name is equally well known to both savvy opera connoisseurs and still-have-a-lot-to-learn-about-opera novices. The winner of multiple awards, including two Grammys, Oscar della Lirica and Golden Mask, hailed by Opera News as  “one of the most exciting Russian singers to emerge on international stage in the past decade”, Ildar Abdrazakov is one of the most sought-after basses in the opera world today. On the heels of his recent Metropolitan Opera triumph in the title role in Borodin's Prince Igor earlier this year, Ildar has returned to open the company's 2014-15 season as Figaro in Richard Eyre's production of Le Nozze di Figaro. During our conversation, Ildar shared his insights on Eyre's fresh treatment of Mozart's masterpiece and offered an interesting take on working with modern directors, self-criticism and other issues crucial for an opera artist today.

Mandolin Vision: Ildar, thank you very much for finding time for this interview.

Ildar Abdrazakov: You are welcome. Any time.



M.V: A week ago you opened the new Metropolitan Opera season as Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro directed by Richard Eyre. Even though this production was reviewed in the media in great detail, not many have yet had a chance to see it in person. In your opinion, what are the most interesting features of this production?


I.A: Well, first of all, I would like to point out that this is an unusual production. It is set in the 1920-30s, which is a new thing by itself. I have participated in many productions of Le Nozze di Figaro and all those productions were pretty classic. This one, however, is more modern in many aspects including the costumes that are different too. 
Another interesting thing about this production is that it is set up on a rotating platform. So this absence of the actual change of sets gives one a chance to observe the change of scenes in a rotating mode. Conveniently enough, one scene transitions into another. The curtain never comes down, and the audience constantly observes what is going on onstage. Not only can the audience see the room of Contessa or Conte, but also they can watch everything that is happening outside their rooms. For example, one can see the Count knocking on the door or Susanna exiting the room or Cherubino performing certain actions. And the audience has a chance to observe all this.


M.V: So the set sort of resembles a see-through skeleton of the house?


I.A.: Exactly. Even though the walls are there, we can still see what is happening in each of the rooms. But of course, to fully appreciate how it works, one has to see it in person.


M.V: During your career you had a chance to work with the true kings of the conductor’s podium. Presently you are working with Maestro James Levine. What does this collaboration mean to you?


I.A: Well, I believe that for every singer and every musician working with Maestro Levine is a true honor and a gift of destiny. Naturally, it is that way for me as well. I am very happy and very proud of being able to work with him as well as of the of the fact that he has put his hopes in me to be part of this production by Richard Eyre and sing the role of Figaro.


What would be a big joy and a big honor for any musician, has fortunately become a reality for me.


M.V: In the 1700-1800s the opinions of opera soloists played a significant role in staging of opera productions. History knows examples when, following the advice of opera singers, composers would go as far as making changes to the arias.


Do modern directors take into consideration the opinions of opera singers? If an opera singer disagrees with the director’s concept or considers the director’s requests unacceptable, is there hope that his opinion will be heard and certain changes will be made?


I.A: Well, it depends on the director. If the director is, let’s say, more adequate and does not only take into consideration his own vision that he has come up with, but also treats the singer as a person who acts out and recreates onstage what has been written by the composer, I think that kind of director would accept the advice of the singer, thus making it more comfortable for the singer.


Thank God I have not worked with directors who would be unwilling to listen or would just insist on whatever they thought was best. The directors I have had a chance to work with were open to the singers’ advice. Thus, for example I have made many suggestions to Richard [Eyre] and he agreed with me. It was interesting for both of us. It was more natural that way, and acting-wise, more interesting for the audience to watch.


M.V: So most directors do remain open to the artists’ opinions?


I.A: Absolutely. Take for example our modern directors such as Vasiliy Barkhatov or Dmitri Tcherniakov who I have had a chance to work with. These are the guys who, thank God, are open to conversation and discussion.


M.V: That’s wonderful.


I.A: There certainly are directors ( I do not want to mention their names now), who I would not want to work with. I have seen their productions and have talked to the singers who participated in those productions.[Their] emotions were not very positive.


After twenty, or to be precise, sixteen years of my career, I already have my opinion of most directors. Not that I have a black list or anything, but…


M.V: You just know who is who, so to speak?


I.A: To a certain extent I do.


M.V: Do you stick to any special schedule on your show days?


I.A: Yes, of course. The most important thing for me is to stay calm and not to be bothered by anyone. I have to get plenty of  sleep, wake up, take a shower, have a cup of coffee and so on.
I don’t like to be bothered by anyone and I don’t like to talk.


M.V: Does that have something to do with the vocal chords?


I.A: It is about the vocal chords. It’s extra pressure on the vocal chords and anyway, talking would mean spending emotions, which, again, I prefer to save and give to the audience later. So the day of the performance is all about charging and saving that energy.


M.V: What do you do between your onstage entrances?


I.A: In the dressing room I relax, drink water. If there is something new, a new role for example, I review the words, the music, the director’s or the conductor’s suggestions – not to forget anything. But all this is done in a calm manner.


M.V: Do you have a talisman or some kind of object that has to be with you during the show and that you cannot go onstage without?


I.A: No, thank God I don’t. I don’t want to develop that kind of dependence, because what would happen if I suddenly left [that object] behind and would get upset or nervous about it? No, it is better not to be dependent on anything. That’s how it is for me at least. This is what decision I have made for myself.


I do know very many singers who put coins into their shoes or stick pins into their clothes. I don’t.


M.V: In other words, you are not superstitious?


I.A: No, I am not. At least I try not to be.


M.V: Ildar, back in the spring 2014 your Facebook page featured several pictures of you in the role of Feodor Chaliapin. However, there was no information about the pictures, except that they were from a movie. Could you please tell our readers about what movie it is and when we will be able to see it?


I.A: Well, this movie, directed by [Timur] Bekmambetov is called Elki-4 [Christmas Trees – 4 – M.V.]. You will be able to see it in late December 2014 – early January 2015, during the holiday season.  I played the role of Chaliapin in it and sang a song together with a girl there. It was not a big role, but it was very interesting for me to play it, even more so because I have been on television since childhood. My father was the leading television director, so this was something I was a little familiar with.


M.V: My next question happens to be just about that - your first role on television, which, if I am not mistaken, you played at the age of 4, correct?


I.A: Exactly. It was the role of the arriving New Year. I was dressed up as a little snowman. I was wearing a white hat and white clothes, but of course, I did not have a red nose. But I was wearing a band which read "1980". I believe it was in 1980. So when the clock struck midnight, everyone around me raised glasses with Champagne and someone ( I don’t remember exactly who it was) lifted me up to show that the New Year had just arrived. So I waved my hand to everyone and wished everyone a happy new year.


I didn’t say any [other]words of course. The show was Goluboy Ogonek [a popular New Year TV show in Russia, traditionally aired on New Year’s Eve – M.V.]. It was filmed in Ufa.


M.V: How did you feel being in front of the camera for the first time? Do you remember your feelings?


I.A: Of course I do. My knees were shaking. I was very scared. Everything was new to me. Plus, there were all the popular TV show hosts around me. The atmosphere was very interesting, with all the wigs, make-up and costumes. The mood was very festive. Of course, this show was filmed some time in November, or early December, but anyway it already felt like the holidays were there.


I can remember feeling a lot of joy, but at the same time, a lot of responsibility.  I knew my dad, who was the leading director, was filming the show and that doubled the responsibility.

M.V: Who is your main critic? Whose opinion do you value most?


I.A: My main critic is me. These days, thanks to the new technology, it is possible to be your own critic, listen to the rehearsals of the show and hear whatever flaws there may be.


Of course, it is wonderful when someone whose opinion you trust is around and available to listen to you. Naturally, it gets more difficult to find that kind of person abroad, even though there are always people around me with whom I performed many times, with whom I worked a lot and whom I could ask for an opinion. Otherwise, I can always listen to my singing myself.


M.V: Do you often feel content with your performance?


I.A: Content? Well, we are not robots. Sometimes it may be a little worse, sometimes – a little better. Absolute perfection is hardly ever possible. Even though some things may be worse and other things may be better, as long as it is a high-level performance, it is great.


One can always come up with something to pick on. One can pick on the smallest thing, one note that may not sound perfect. However, if the whole performance is great, one imperfect note means nothing. If your soul sings and if you do put your soul into the music you perform, little things do not matter.


Of course, if someone has no voice and just screeches instead of singing, this is terrible. However, if the voice is there and it is beautiful, even if there are small flaws, they can be ignored.


M.V: Ildar, is there an opera that, in your opinion, will always remain modern and relevant?


I.A: Sure. It is Don Giovanni.


M.V: I consider myself fortunate enough to have seen your Don Giovanni in the WNO back in 2012, which I also reviewed for Bachtrack. That was a very impressive performance.


I.A: Thank you very much.


M.V: Do you mind if we wrap-up our interview with a short blitz?


I.A: Not at all.


M.V: What is your favorite place on earth?


I.A: My favorite place on earth… is my home.


M.V: Which is…?


I.A: I have several: the house where my mom lives and the house where I live, in St. Petersburg. But my favorite place on earth is my home, where my mom lives.


M.V: Beautiful answer – thank you. What is your favorite holiday?


I.A: The New Year.


M.V: What is your favorite dish?


I.A: The manti that my mom makes.


M.V: I bet they are delicious.


I.A: Oh yes, they are incredible.


M.V: And the last question. What would you do, had you not become an opera singer?


I.A: Well, actually back in my childhood I used to dream of becoming a long-haul driver. I loved big cars. I used to dream about moving from city to city, from country to country, which in fact, I am doing these days. On my own two feet.


M.V: Ildar, once again I want to thank you for this wonderful interview and would like to wish you every success in your work. May inspiration never leave you.


I.A: Thank you very much. I wish you health and success to both you and the magazine that you are writing for. May everything you do go at a crescendo.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Inspiration Drinks

Inspired music making starts with the right drink!
Don't jump to conclusions yet, my friends! Remember, Mandolin Vision is a family friendly blog, so read on to see what I am talking about.
Every Tuesday evening after Troy finishes his individual cello class at Peabody, we stop by at the cafeteria for a snack and "a drink of water".
Peabody is all about creativity and inspiration, so even its cafeteria is no exception. There is no regular iced tea or lemonade there. Regular stuff is for regular places. And Peabody is anything but regular!
So instead of lemonade and iced tea that cost money and contain few vitamins if any, Peabody cafeteria serves all kinds of fresh fruit-and-herb-infused water for free!
Here are the 2 biggest hits!

Pineapple-and-mint
Strawberry-and-lemon
 

Needless to say, Peabody students line up to get those before heading out to follow their inspiration.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Handel's Sky

Troy has always been a good music listener, but this summer he began listening more thoughtfully and maturely – more into the music rather than just to the music. It was also this summer that he re-visited Handel’s Water Music and Music for Royal Fireworks, having re-discovered old favorites and discovered new ones.

This DVD,
dedicated to costumed recreation of the night of 07/17/1777 (numerology, anyone?) when Handel premiered his Water Music in front of King George I  on the river Thames, communicates a beautiful message.
One does not have to physically be on the barge on the river Thames or any other river for that matter to fully enjoy the beauty of Handel's music.
A bucket of water will suffice.
 Just close your eyes, suggests the narrator, dip your hand in the bucket and make a few light splashes. Listen to the music (so beautiful that it made King George I forgive Handel for fleeing his Motherland) and allow yourself to be transported to that glorious sunlit evening on the Thames.
About a week ago we were driving back from Ocean City, one of Troy’s most favorite places on Earth. The traffic was bad, and we were barely moving. That day Troy asked to listen to Handel’s Water Music in the car. So we did. By the time we got to Bay Bridge, we came to a complete stop. It was almost sunset time and the view with sunlit arrow-like and curly clouds and the water all around us looked almost unreal. In our earlier posts we referred to moments of pure perfection as to “moments of God”. That was one of them.
And then it began – Troy’s favorite Alla Hornpipe on our CD.

Having heard it, Troy got really excited, pointed to the sky and said: “ Look, mama, look, it’s Handel’s sky! We have Handel’s sky!”
As we were “standing” on the bridge for a good 10 minutes, he asked to listen to Alla Hornpipe again. And again. And again. And he kept watching the sky. Handel’s sky.
We tired to capture the view with our phone camera, but naturally, all the perfection of the moment stayed in that moment. Yet, the clouds and the sky which Troy called Handel’s are there!
 

We Are Back!

After a long summer filled with all kinds of musical experiences, we are back to report that we ready to catch up on a lot of things.

Firstly and most importantly, we will publish a number of updates on our latest musical revelations  - mainly Troy’s - as he discovers and learns more about music.
Secondly, we are still planning to publish our much belated La Cenerentola at the Met post. Brace yourselves, my friends, it is on its way!

We will start with the most recent update and go back in retrospective all the way up to La Cenerentola in May.
See you all very soon on the pages of Mandolin Vision!

Cheers and viva la musica!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Troy's 1st Cello Recital

Dear Friends:
After a long break Mandolin Vision is back with some wonderful news!

On Sunday, May 18th, after two semesters of Cello Fun Instruction (which included both a lot of fun and a lot of practice that happened to be part of the fun), Troy had his first cello recital! 

While we were getting ready for the recital, as Troy's cello coach-parent, I had to focus not only on rehearsing his repertoire, but also on prepping him emotionally for all kinds of unexpected situations: slips, mistakes, etc. If you ever studied music you know that every music student has to know how to deal with those.
Keeping in mind how much respect my son has for his two role-model performers "Ms. Joyce" and "Mr. Juan Diego", I recited (in my own words) what Joyce had said about messing up onstage in this wonderful message to young music students.
Keep going until you get back on track!
Troy got it.
He loved it.
Joyce certainly knows how to get through to her young colleagues. 

During his cello class the day before his recital, Troy's teacher told him that if he made a mistake at the recital, he should not stop, but keep going no matter what. Troy gave her a huge smile and said:" Yeah, just like Ms. Joyce said!" 

That same day Troy and I stopped by at his favorite store, to pick up some flowers, a thank-you card for his teacher and a refreshment for the post-recital reception.
“Mama, said Troy, let us get red roses for Ms. Bai-Chi, because I like roses and red is my favorite color”.  So red roses we bought 

along with strawberry and cream cupcakes as a refreshment

and this card 

which Troy also chose himself. Later that same day Troy dictated to me what he wanted to write in it, including the “I love my cello” part inside the heart that he had drawn himself. 

(The best and funniest thing about the heart message was that the first song on the program that the cellists were supposed to play was called I Love My Cello.)
The recital for young cellists and violinists took place in a small auditorium in one of Peabody affiliates – a perfect fit for a private event that it was.
Here is what the recital program looked like:

The cellists (Troy, his cello buddy and friend Soren and two girls who just finished their first semester of Cello Fun) opened the program with two songs that they did all together. The Ants Song (see the program above) was played pizzicato.
Both the songs included singing. So as soon as the kids onstage started singing, a lot of singing was heard from the grown-up part of the audience - both the cello coach-parents and the violin coach-parents chimed in to show their support to the young musicians. It was a very touching and very uniting moment. 

Then it was time for the solos.
Troy’s solo, his favorite King of the Castle, was the first on the program. He was ready to play it with a bow, but his teacher forgot about it and told him to do pizzicato. He did – and very well, but kept looking at me with I-don't-understand-what-is-going-on eyes.
When it comes to music Troy is really ambitious. He wanted to show how much he had learned and how he could play with a bow.
So I asked Troy’s teacher if he could do the King of the Castle again with a bow and of course, she said "yes". So after the other three cellists were done with their solos, Troy’s teacher announced that Troy would be playing another version of King of the Castle
Troy did very well. 
He was very calm and kept cool throughout the whole performance. 
Even when for a mere second his bow slipped from the D string to the A string, ("just like Ms. Joyce said!") he kept going with so much confidence that no one in the audience noticed it, especially because the following line had to have that A in it. 

The audience gave Troy a big applause and cheered for him. String students and their parents are a very supportive crowd. At the post-recital reception several parents actually walked up to Troy to shake his hand and tell him how great he did. 

He felt very special and very happy.
Thinking back about the wonderful afternoon that in our family will always be remembered as the day of Troy's first cello recital, I go back to that very special moment when Troy just came off the stage, sat down next to us, buried his smiling face in his hands and said: "This is what I always wanted - to be in a real concert, on a real stage! And now I was! I am so happy!"

Troy's cello classes continue until the end of June. According to his teacher, Troy's 1/10 cello has gotten too small for him and has to be exchanged for 1/8!  One more exciting thing to look forward to!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Great Start of 2014!

I have to admit that it has not always been an easy thing for Mandolin Vision to update this blog regularly. Sometimes this blogger gets tied up in so many things that it takes a month or even longer to catch up on the news. Nevertheless, today it is my pleasure to present you all with a joyful update on one of this blog’s favorite vocal artists, the voice of all voices, the one and only, Juan Diego Florez.
Mandolin Vision sends its most heartfelt congratulations to Juan Diego
on the birth of his daughter Lucia Stella on January 1st, 2014
and his operatic baby, that is still on the way and is due on April 15th, 2014 – his new CD L’Amour,

which can be pre-ordered on amazon.com.
Congratulations, Juan Diego!
What a fantastic start of 2014!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Mariinsky's Swan Lake: A Serious Ballet

Whenever the Mariinsky Ballet comes to our area, it makes a lot of noise. Most tickets get sold out instantly and those that do not get sold out are unaffordable. No surprise there – over the centuries along with the Bolshoi, Mariinsky Ballet has earned the reputation of one of the most prominent ballet companies in the world, bringing immense glory to Russia, the country by right considered the cradle of classical ballet. Needless to say, it is a dream of every Russian immigrant living in the USA to take their kids to a Bolshoi or Mariinsky ballet performance, and let the kids embrace the Russian culture at its best.

Therefore, when I learned that this season Mariinsky was bringing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, I got a little sad, firstly because at this point I am unable to afford two full-price tickets for a performance of this category, and secondly, because I knew how much Troy wanted to see it and how much this particular ballet ( with all the times that he had seen it on line and on DVD, with all the music that he had learned and hummed from this ballet and all the scenes that he had acted it out using his Swan Lake playset) meant to him.
But, I guess, some things are just meant to be, because Lady Luck smiled at us yesterday, when a friend offered me two free standing room tickets. Yeah, I know, standing room is not great for a kid of 5, but between my innate ability to find a good seat in the house no matter how few empty seats there are,  and the number of WNO ushers I personally know from being a Bachtrack reviewer, I estimated our chances of watching the performance from a nice seat to be pretty good. So after I got off work, Troy and I headed straight to the Kennedy Center.

The traffic was pretty light for Thursday night in DC, so we arrived at the Kennedy Center with plenty of time to find a good parking spot and get into the opera house early enough to figure out the best place to stand at, had we actually had to use our tickets and stand though the performance.
As for the seat that I was planning to find, we did not even have to look for it – it was right in front of us. It turned out that the one chair in the row in front of us was not taken, so, by the time the lights went down, we were seated in the last row of the orchestra, (very happy and relieved that we did not have to stand) and all ready to enjoy the show.
The performance was indeed the one to enjoy. From the beautiful idyllic sets to the breathtaking costumes, it was all about the precious classical tradition that never goes out of style.
Everyone, from the principal artists to the corps de ballet, was able to demonstrate the highest level of skill, technique, security and synchrony. But of course, it was the principals that earned the most admiration from the audience. Olga Esina,
once the soloist of Mariinsky and currently the prima ballerina at the Wiener Staatsopera was completely polar, yet equally breathtaking as both the fair Odette and her evil nemesis Odile. Her blonde Odettte was subtle and exquisite, her blonde Odille (somehow, a rare case in productions of this ballet) was especially impeccable in her famous 32 fouettes.

Even though normally it is the prima who steals the Swan Lake show, in this performance Esina had to split her success with her Siegfried, portrayed by young Mariinsky soloist Timur Askerov.

 His security in performing the most difficult pas as well as his command of the space and his ability to “sit in the air” kept wowing the audience throughout the performance.

The audience responded emotionally. People screamed “Bravi!” in Italian and «Молодцы!» in Russian, and of course, Troy was one of those people. No wonder – everything that he had been watching, listening to, and humming, came alive and became real.
I asked Troy which of the 2 ballets that we had recently seen he liked better, The Nutcracker or the Swan Lake.

“Mama, said Troy, the Swan Lake, of course. I like the Nutcracker too, but it is more for kids, and the Swan Lake is serious!”
Of course, beautiful and serious as it all was, there were still a couple of new things that earlier productions did not have, that I thought were a tad out of place, if not funny. And of course, you know me, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about those.

Firstly, in Act 1 the short-necked swans gliding along the lake looked disproportional and therefore, a tad school-playish.
Yet, the most surprising thing took place in Act 3, when the swan dance was performed by the corps de ballet dressed both in white and black tutus.
In any other ballet that would not be a problem, but in the Swan Lake color is everything. In the Swan Lake things are color-coded to the extent that white stands for good (Odette), and black stands for evil (Odile). And so if that is the case, then, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but what was a flock of black swans doing among the white-feathered friends of Odette’s? Moreover, from the esthetic point of view, this combination did not look nice either. Next to the shimmering tutus of “the white swans”, the dancers dressed in plain black tutus resembled black crows, rather than swans. You get my point: diversity is awesome, unless it interferes with the concept.

However, overall, it was a wonderful show, which was why Troy screamed “Bravi!” tirelessly at the curtain call and declared that he would go see it again right away. I am so grateful for having been able to take Troy to a performance of so much class and quality and let him learn first-hand what the real classical ballet is all about.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The World Saving Beauty

Music bloggers have their traditions. One of the best traditions among my fellow bloggers is to post an entry on January 27th, also known to the music world as Mozart’s birthday, and through it, pay a tribute to the greatest composer of all times.

The post you are about to read is not only about Mozart or his music. It is about kids and the power of kids’ talent.
One of Troy’s most favorite places in Baltimore is Walter’sArt Museum. Indeed, this is a great place to spend time at, just because there is so much to see and do there. Besides the permanent collections that Troy is very fond of, there are also great exhibits, theme festivals, creative family activities, shows, incredible Thursdays nights when the whole museum looks simply amazing by the night lighting, a café with all sorts of coffees, steamies, Italian sodas and deserts to die for… in short, you name it, they have it.

Since the Peabody and the Walter’s are conveniently located right across from one another, I take Troy to the Walter’s after his cello class if/when I have a chance to. The particular Saturday I am going to tell you about fell on the Winter Break at Peabody, so there was no cello class. However, true to himself, right after breakfast Troy asked to go to the Walter’s anyway. So we did.
After a game of chess in the Knights Hall, Troy and I were about to start our weekly Ancient World quest, when we heard the sounds that made us freeze with joy, the sounds of Mozart’s timeless Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The music was coming from the Sculpture Court, where, having forgotten all about Anubis and Ra, Ariadne and Medusa, we headed momentarily.
And here it was, seated in the middle of the Sculpture Court, the young and talented Peabody Prep string orchestra, performing Mozart under the baton of the Meyerhoff’s regular, Maestro Edward Polochick. The great acoustics of the Sculpture Court allowed the sound to gain immense power and volume. It was hard to believe that this incredible, all embracing sound was produced not by an orchestra of grown-up musicians, but an orchestra of 7-12 graders.

However, what struck me most about this performance was the amount of genuine passion for music and the selfless dedication with which those kids were performing. Their music did not just sound – it went straight into the heart! Needless to say, the performance found a huge response with the audience, especially with its youngest members. Troy moved both his arms in the air, pretending to play the music on the cello. A boy on the balcony was waving his arms as if “conducting”, just like Troy used to do. A girl right in front of us pretended to play the violin. In short, whether on or offstage, in reality or still just in their dreams, all the children were playing Mozart!

And then I had a thought: Dostoyevsky’s character Prince Myshkin claimed: “Beauty will save the world”. So here it was, right in front of us, sincere, unpretentious and therefore, the most powerful of all beauties – the beauty of children’s talent. Of course, there may be other types of beauty that may have just as much chance of saving the world, but you know what? Our future is in the hands of our kids, so as long as there are kids, who play Mozart, the world does have hope.