St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Opera on the Red Sea
The Sum of its Parts is Greater than the Whole
This was not Moscow on the Hudson but St Petersburg on the Red Sea. Valery Gergiev, the charismatic conductor and director of the Mariinsky Opera of St Petersburg brought his orchestra, choir and top-notch soloists, over 300 artists in total, for a series of 3 concerts to Eilat for the Red Sea Classical Music Festival. Gergiev clearly loves the town, Israel’s gateway to the Red Sea and Eilat in turn reciprocates. To hold the large audience, drawn from Israel’s cultural and social elite, most of whom came from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Festival committee refurbished a huge hanger at the Eilat seaport for the festivities.
The opening concert was Mahler’s second symphony, the Resurrection. The second night was devoted to Verdi’s Nabucco and the final night to his last opera, Falstaff. The first two performances should be considered as warm-ups. There were several reasons for this. The orchestra only arrived in Eilat four hours before the opening concert so there was no rehearsal time in a strange and unknown venue. The evening before they had given a performance on their home turf of Mussorgsky’s demanding opera, Khovanshchina, and they must have been exhausted. Difficulties with extraneous bothersome noise and the cold weather did not help matters.
Luckily everything came together with the final performance of Verdi’s last masterpiece Falstaff. Huge heaters had been brought in to warm orchestra, singers and audience. This Falstaff was a very memorable and notable performance. Although given in concert form, one was totally engrossed in the vocal and orchestral splendor. The Mariinsky showed that they are one of the great operatic companies in the world. Particularly noteworthy was baritone Viktor Chernomortsev in the title role. He brought out the required comic relief and humor as well as pathos and anger and final forgiveness required of the role. The aggrieved husband Ford, baritone Vassily Gerello, was also impressive especially in his aria when he suspects his wife of infidelity and pours out his wrath. Accomplished singers also sang other roles. Of the four women in the cast, special mention must be made of light lyrical soprano, Yulia Smorodina, who sung Nanetta. Her mother, Alice Ford was sung by Tatiana Pavlovskaya was also certainly up to the demands of the role. The final magnificent fugue was a fitting climax to a great performance.
During the days, small ensembles from the different sections of the orchestra showed off their prowess with chamber works given in halls in the large luxurious hotels in Eilat. Most memorable was a performance of Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil performed by the Mariinsky Opera chorus conducted by Andrei Peternko. The magnificent Mariinsky Choir did full justice to this Orthodox Church music, which may be regarded as one of the pinnacles of the genre. Their voices filled the banquet hall giving joyous affirmation of religious faith. The banquet hall setting was somewhat sterile. One had to close ones eyes to imagine how this would have sounded in the appropriate venue of a Russian Orthodox Church. Equally exciting was a performance from members of the percussion in excerpts from Grieg’s Peer Gynt and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet amongst others. Their talent was awesome. Ensembles from the brass, woodwind and string section also had their turn, all playing with masterful precision. Indeed, these individual ensembles made a powerful impression suggesting that the sum of the parts is greater that the whole.
The Mariinsky under Giergev will be back in January 2007. So come to Eilat and partake of its beaches, vistas and hiking possibilities and then relax with glorious music. With more planning and coordination, this festival has the potential of becoming one of the premiere international music festivals in the region.