One of the least attractive characters in all of opera
is Prince Andrei in Modest Mussorgsky's Khovanschina. Here is a guy
who is clearly sexually obsessive-compulsive but without the charm and
complexity of Don Giovanni. He dumps his saintly fiancé to chase
after another skirt. She doesn't want him so he tries to take her by
force. He is unconcerned with all the revolution and killing about him,
even his father's, annoys the whole of society and never changes his
selfish, boorish behaviour, even when being consumed by flames in the
You get some idea of the substantial scope of the casting
of this opera at the Bastille that the tenor singing this role is Vladimir
Galusin. One of the great dramatic tenors on stage today, he triumphed
as Hermann in The Queen of Spades in Paris and London and his recent
success at the Metropolitan Opera in New York has put him at the top
of every opera director's wish list. He recently sang Otello in Toulouse
and will get the full international spotlight in this role at the Orange
Festival next summer. In this thankless role, he shines as much as possible
and his full-throttle voice is really something to be experienced.
Larissa Diadkova sings Marfa, the cast aside
woman who, quite incredibly, loves him to the end. If the name sounds
familiar, she is the fabulous mezzo who sings with Renée Fleming
the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin on the "Great Opera Scenes" disk
conducted by Solti. She is listed in the program as a contralto, and
it is certain that this role exercises the lower register of any mezzo.
It is a pivotal role in this opera and it was impressively performed.
The wonderful bass Vladimir Ognovenko sang Prince Ivan
Khovansky. He is an exceptional singing actor and gave new dimension
to his role. The audience applauded most for the role of Prince Golitsin
and this was sung by the fine American tenor Robert Brubaker.
He impressed greatly in the title role of Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg last
month and his intelligent musicality is always especially welcome.
The powerful bass Anatoly Kotcherga, amply
handled the role that Feodor Chaliapin loved to sing, Dosifei. Soprano
Tatiana Pavlovskaya made an impressive debut at the Paris Opera
in the role of Emma. Her large and luscious voice easily filled the
hall and she made much of this small role. The subsidiary roles were
all well sung and the choir warmed up after the first act and sang their
important parts with conviction.
This is a sweeping - some might say sprawling - epic
of an opera and its five acts make it Wagnerian in length. James
Conlon conducted this with the majesty and gravity as if it were
Wagner. Only a committed conductor like Conlon could keep the music
from flagging and his obvious belief in the score and its beauty won
many converts. Andrei Serban's décor was minimal and featured
lots of giant angles on stage. Working with set and costumes designer
Richard Hudson, he created handsome stage pictures and effective drama
on the often-crowded stage. The large variety of costumes for this production
was exceptionally impressive. The ballet sequence, to the well-known
"Dance of the Persian Slaves," was a confused pastiche of clichés
to such an extent that it seemed to be almost improvised by the dancers.
Laurence Fanon, the responsible person, failed to meet even the lowered
expectations of opera ballet. One would imagine a company with well
over 300 years of experience in ballet performance could be doing a
Ballet aside, the combination of exceptional casting
and passionate conducting made this opera a significant and welcomed
addition to the repertory this season. It is playing at the Opéra
Bastille until 12 January and the December 15 performance will be broadcast
live by France Musiques.
(left to right)
Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Larissa Diadkova
and Vladimir Galusin.
photo credit : Eric Mahoudeau