English translation of review in Moscow Komsomolets June 9 2019
In the “New Opera” premiere of the English “Pushkin” the House of Romanov was cursed because of Pushkin.
The premiere of the opera by the British composer Konstantin Boyarsky “Pushkin” staged by conductor Jan Latham-Koenig and directed by Igor Ushakov was a big success at the Novaya Opera. Presented two years ago in a concert performance, the opera has now been fully staged – which is both very interesting and does justice to the standard of musical and literary material. “Pushkin” is one of the rare examples of a real modern opera score, where the relevance of the musical language does not destroy the laws of the genre itself. How this happens is explained, with pleasure, by the “MK” columnist.
At first, “Pushkin”, composed by the British, caused mistrust. Well, okay, the composer is Russian by birth, but the author of the libretto in English (!!!) is a real Englishwoman, Marita Phillips. And although in all the press releases it states that she is a direct descendant of — all at once — Pushkin, and Goncharova, and even Tsar Nicholas I, this caused even greater suspicion: can a British writer and a British composer really tell about “our Russian everything” without slipping into slapstick? It turned out – they could. And in conjunction with the intelligent direction of Igor Ushakov and the spare, elegant scenography of Timofey Yermolin, it was great. Even the English language helped give perspective and has been of benefit – as a moment of “estrangement” and even of the “estrangement according to Shklovsky.”
Remember that in former times Pushkin didn’t really appear in serious theatre and cinema as a character. “The Last Days” a play written by Mikhail Bulgakov, does not feature the main character. But Pushkin in portrait makeup – especially after the immense exploitation of the theme 20 years ago, when the poet’s 200th birthday caused a flurry of re-creations in his memory, and also not very successful screenings of the film with Sergei Bezrukov – is a risky thing. It is easy to fall into vulgarity and parody.
In the Novaya Opera performance Pushkin is performed by Stanislav Mostovoy – without sideburns, without a cane, without a top hat, without a hint of a look that has become a meme. Yes, and sung in English. Therefore, Alexander Sergeevich here is not a caricature, but a man endowed with the gift of genius, cruelly humiliated personally by the Tsar. And that’s why he literally ran into the bullet of D’Anthes in order to finish with all this: debts, gossip, insults, the Kammerjunker uniform – total non-freedom. Such a version may seem controversial to some Pushkin devotees (by the way, it is very popular in our Pushkin studies). One thing is important: the authors wrote their opera with an absolute understanding of Pushkin’s genius and stature, with admiration for him, with love and sympathy, with intransigence for his killers: as much for the “white man” (D’Anthes – Anton Bochkarev – throughout the performance literally blinds with aggressive whiteness) as for the ideologue of the poet’s death, Nicholas I (Artem Garnov). The gypsy woman (Gayane Babadzhanyan), who calls out Pushkin’s fatal numbers – 3 and 7, 37 years old, which was exactly the age he was destined to live to (didn’t Pushkin himself announce these tragic numbers in “The Queen of Spades”?), the Romanov House cursed in the finale. And it all came true: only 80 years passed, and the dynasty was destroyed.
The Goncharov’s three sisters — the director quite definitely plays up this Chekhov theme — are a wonderful female trio: Ekaterina, D’Anthes’s wife, Irina Romishevskaya, Alexandrina, Pushkin’s only true friend in this family, Anna Sinitsyna and beautiful Natalya, Juliet Avanesyan. Their dresses are extremely modest, if not plain. They are without dowries. And they, too, have hard times in this life.
The scenography is minimal and expressive: a light sketch, like in Pushkin’s own drawings, a hint, a detail, a fragment … Sometimes we see only black silhouettes of the artists against a backlight. In some mysterious way the atmosphere of the era, as we imagine it today, gets put together from this subtle jigsaw puzzle.
The choral and ensemble scenes are very expressive. Especially the choral prologue, which sets the tone for this performance and is the key to the musical style of Konstantin Boyarsky’s score. The young composer, who studied at the Central Music School in his childhood, has been living in Great Britain since the early 1990s. He is Principal viola player in the London Covent Garden Orchestra. “The Best Young Classical Composer of Great Britain” according to the resource suite101.com 2010. And here the word is important: classical. The term signifying not so much a connection with tradition as the location of the art, namely, opera houses and philharmonic halls. For more than half a century, if not more, this “classical area” is increasingly tilting towards the “avant-garde” with its stillborn, meaningless formulas, which either by inertia, or because it is easier to hide behind the lack of talent, began to take the place of modern “classics” and “academic music”.
Boyarsky’s “Pushkin” is the exact opposite. This is a real opera, built on the principles of symphonic development, full of beautiful melody and vivid, memorable themes. Where necessary, there is a reliance on the everyday, corresponding to the exigencies of era and plot, – a polonaise, a waltz, a gypsy song. However – what a waltz and what a song! Nothing “dated”: everything was created in the 21st century by a young author, who has listened perfectly to the musical formats sounding in our world. Where it is necessary – in the conflict dialogues, for example – the composer resorts to more rigid sounds. There are large orchestral fragments in post-romantic style, associated with the music of Mahler or Richard Strauss.
The orchestra of the theatre conducted by maestro Latham-Köenig plays this music with obvious pleasure and dedication. With all the diversity and democracy in the musical material there is no eclecticism, no banality, nothing borrowed, nothing derivative. Moreover, there are quite a few places in the score that could well be called hits. For example, the romance “I Loved You,” which Baron Heckeren sang beautifully with the help of Vasily Gurylev.
I would venture to predict that the opera “Pushkin” is waiting for repertory success. This is also because the authors do not try to shock the public with the “rewriting” of the Pushkinian textbook. But first of all, because the music is very good.
Ekaterina Kretova 9 June 2019