A Century of Opera at the Mikhailovsky TheatreThe Mikhailovsky Theatre opera company is preparing to celebrate its centenary. Its birthday is considered to be 6 March 1918. To mark the occasion, a gala concert will be held at the Mikhailovsky Theatre on 21 March which will pay homage to the most important episodes in the theatre’s history.
The opera company is generally considered to date back to 6 March 1918, when the Mikhailovsky Theatre staged a performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia. This legendary performance is part of the shared legacy of what was then Petrograd’s entire theatrical community: the production featured artists and sets from the Mariinsky Theatre. The opera was preceded by a letter written in January 1918 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, the Soviet People’s Commissar for Education, to the head of Petrograd’s state academic theatres, dictating that „The former Mikhailovsky Theatre must be reopened by 1 April 1918“. The new opera theatre formed its own creative team in the summer of 1918, when the members of the choir and orchestra were selected. The Theatre’s first independently staged premiere was Jacques Offenbach’s opera-buffa La Périchole on 13 October 1918. Naturally, the upcoming centenary gala concert would not be complete without these landmark productions — Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Périchole — to set the celebratory tone.
Vladimir Kekhman, Artistic Director of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, is confident that the audience on 21 March has a real treat in store. He is grateful in particular to Vladimir Jurowski and Aida Garifullina, who, despite their packed schedules, have found the time to take part in preparations for the anniversary celebration and to visit St. Petersburg to perform. The programme for the gala concert includes excerpts from an incredibly diverse selection of opera music. Performed together, they will provide a taste of the rich musical heritage our opera company has created over this century, and of the outstanding contribution the theatre has made to music worldwide.
In homage to the magnificent classics of opera which have always taken pride of place at the theatre, excerpts will be performed from Puccini’s Tosca, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel. The Queen of Spades has a special place in the line-up. In the mid-1930s, Vsevolod Meyerhold’s version of this opera prompted a revolution in theatre aesthetics: here was a production in which Tchaikovsky’s music was interconnected and read from the point of view of the director’s score.
There are some fascinating episodes in the theatre’s history which, regrettably, are now remembered only rarely. For example, 1927 saw a production of the Austrian composer Ernst Krenek’s opera Der Sprung über den Schatten. The production was staged on the initiative of Boris Asafiev, who had purchased the opera score from the composer personally. Paul Hindemith and Alban Berg saw the opera in Leningrad, and Berg commented that it was this performance that made him want to work for the theatre. Modern audiences will appreciate the opportunity to experience an opera in which the central protagonist is a hypnotist.
The Maly Opera Theatre is deservedly known as the „laboratory of Soviet opera“, and this chapter in the theatre’s history will be accorded a special place in the gala concert. As a graduate student at the Leningrad Conservatory, Dmitri Shostakovich composed an opera based on Gogol’s The Nose which was performed here in the early 1930s. Shostakovich had, as he himself put it, „symphonized Gogol’s text“. The Nose is today considered one of the great composer’s most underrated works, whilst his Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was performed four years later, has rightly come to be regarded as one of the most important operatic compositions of the 20th century. No less important for the world’s artistic heritage is Sergei Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace. This had its world premiere at the Maly Opera Theatre in June 1946, the music conveying the patriotic ideals of Leo Tolstoy’s epic.
From the multitude of operas which were first performed at the Maly Opera Theatre, maestro Vladimir Jurowski has also chosen Dmitry Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon, based on the novel by Romain Rolland, and two compositions by Sergei Slonimsky, who defined the artistic climate of the 1960s and 70s: Virinea and Mary Stuart. Excerpts from these have been included in the evening programme.
The gala concert will feature outstanding opera legends and People’s Artists of Russia Sergei Leiferkus, Nina Romanova, and Nikolay Kopylov, bright young stars such as Aida Garifullina, and young Mikhailovsky Theatre soloists who are rapidly achieving worldwide renown, including international competition winners Svetlana Moskalenko, Boris Pinkhasovich, and Boris Stepanov. The conductor and artistic director of the concert is Vladimir Jurowski.
The music will be performed to an immersive visual accompaniment: multimedia director Gleb Filshtinsky has sought out rare historical footage from the archives and breathed new life into it with the help of modern technology.