The Bolshoi Theatre is putting on a new premiere on October 8. The company will perform Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth, to mark the great Italian composer's 190th birth anniversary (October 10). Macbeth is yet another sign of change underway at the Bolshoi. It has been expanding the practice of joint productions with foreign companies lately, as well as enriching its repertoire by putting on six or seven premieres per season, and inviting new foreign and Russian stars - directors, singers and conductors.
Macbeth is an opera "hired" from Italy, as it was staged by Maggio Musicale of Florence and Teatro Massimo of Palermo last season. This production is the first opera experience of Eimuntas Nekrosius, a Lithuanian stage director. A graduate of Moscow's State Institute of Theatrical Arts (former GITIS, now the Russian Academy of Theatrical Arts), up until now he was known in Russia only as a drama director, with an inclination for Russian classics and Shakespeare. He won three Italian UBU prizes in a row for best foreign production - for Chekhov's Three Sisters, Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth (all dramatic plays).
In Moscow, the operatic version of Macbeth was rehearsed with world-famous Russian singers, and Italian conductor and composer Marcello Panni, who has often performed at the La Scala and Metropolitan Opera theatres, as well as the Vienna, Rome and Paris opera houses. Another celebrated Italian musician, Franco Pagliazzi, who gained fame throughout Europe for his brilliant performances at opera houses, was invited as a singing instructor. Last season he also trained Bolshoi stars for Giacomo Puccini's Turandot.
Verdi is one of the Russian public's favourite composers. His operas, including Rigoletto, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, Aida and Nabucco, have been running here for decades. Even those who are not remotely musical hum tunes of their arias. Macbeth, though, is only known here theoretically. Indeed, this early Verdi opera, which is extremely difficult in terms of singing, has not been on in Russia for almost fifteen decades. Its premiere in Italy took place in 1847.
Tow Bolshoi soloists, Vladimir Redkin and Yelena Zelenskaya, will play the parts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Redkin has an international reputation as one of the best Verdi baritones. Zelenskaya, in turn, has starred as Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin, as Aida, Puccini's Tosca, Contessa in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera at many European opera houses.
"Lady Macbeth is one of my favourite parts, as it marked the start of my international career," says Zelenskaya. "I sang it at the Royal Danish Opera, Norway Opera, Minnesota Opera (USA) and other theatres. I have taken part in different versions, both traditional and modern. I've had to do all sorts of weird things as Lady Macbeth - I turned somersaults and crawled along the stage, walked on top of the grand piano, appeared on stage barefoot...
"I am happy that the Bolshoi finally took on this masterpiece. In this opera, acting is no less important than singing. It requires the highest level of acting ability. Verdi did dub this passion-filled play of Shakespeare's "one of the greatest human creations." A Macbeth staged by a drama director like Nekrosius is an ideal variant." Traditionally, singers are intimidated by the prospect of working on an opera with a drama stage director. There is always a danger of their vocal performance shifted to the background. Luckily, Nekrosius seems an exception to the rule. Although admitting that it is difficult for him to have his work so dependent on the music, he nevertheless handles it with much solicitude, avoiding experiments which could interfere with Verdi's musical conception. Nekrosius's production is far more traditional than modern; it is "moderate," as he puts it.
"Our interaction with the director was warm and cooperative," Zelenskaya goes on to explain. "Nekrosius was nothing like a dictator. He was very open, and eventually revealed many new things even to those of us who have earlier performed in Macbeth. He offered us schemes or moves, but never insisted on following his directions exactly. We were always free to put forth our own ideas. This kind of actor-director partnership is very, very important.
"Singing instructor Franco Pagliazzi is our old friend; we have worked on many productions together. His cooperation gives singers a lot of benefits. He helped up perfect our Italian, as many of us had problems with it. In Macbeth, every word is significant for observation of phrasing. Franco is a wonderful professional." "I tend to use minimalist means in staging a performance," Nekrosius says. "According to him, minimalism can make a performance extremely expressive. He used a back-gray-and-white palette for the stage and costumes, Lady Macbeth's scarlet outfit being the only bright spot. There aren't many sets either. But this "scanty" scenography (authored by Marius Nekrosius) is exactly the source of the sinister magic so characteristic of Shakespeare's play, it proves very convincing. "Nekrosius decided against the traditional blood on stage," adds Zelenskaya. "He believes that Verdi's music is so expressive in itself that it perfectly exposes Shakespeare's characters. It does not have to be illustrated with naturalistic effects and redundant body movements." "Macbeth's relationships with his wife are very important in the opera," Nekrosius comments. "I think it is his fate. And, it is better to have such fate than none." "I made it perfectly clear for myself that, having felt this hunger for power, Macbeth became inwardly ready to kill," Redkin notes.
"My Lady Macbeth is very fond of her husband, she becomes his shadow," Zelenskaya believes. "But this does not prevent her from prodding him to crime. He, in turn, trusts in her intelligence and obeys her all the way. And on they go, laying their way with corpses, destroying everything which impedes their progress." The change now underway in the Bolshoi is a welcome change, Zelenskaya notes in conclusion. "The practice of inviting foreign stars is very fruitful indeed. A theater cannot do without this kind of exchange these days. A theater, even one like the Bolshoi, must not be permanently locked in itself. We singers are very happy with the expansion of the company's repertoire. There are much more masterpieces on it now, including world's best productions. Drama stage directors working in the Bolshoi are also a good innovation, fitting in with world trends." Macbeth will be followed by other, no less mystical productions in the Bolshoi - Sergei Prokofyev's Fire Angel and Richard Wagner's Flying Dutchman. This means the Bolshoi will continue to get integrated with the "global theatrical process," according to its musical director Alexander Vedernikov.
Olga Sobolevskaya, RIAN
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