The Mariinsky Opera in Eilat, Israel
Congratulations Maestro Gergiev on a resounding success
By Dr. Irving Spitz
Valery Gergiev brought his magnificent orchestra, choir and soloists from the Mariinsky (Kirov) Opera in St Petersburg to Eilat for the Sixth International Red Sea Festival. On the program were two rarely performed operas, Rimsky-Korsakov's Golden Cockerel and Hector Berlioz’s Benvenutto Cellini as well as Verdi’s well known Requiem.
The Golden Cockerel, based on a poem by Pushkin, has never been previously performed in Israel. This fairy story relates how an old king believes his country to be in danger of invasion by a neighboring state governed by a beautiful queen. A mysterious astrologer gives the king a magic golden cockerel that is able to foretell events and promises to look after his interest. The bird confirms that the Queen has territorial ambitions. Meanwhile the queen realizes she can take over the country without fighting and engineers a marriage proposal from the king. When the king and his bride-to-be return home, the astrologer makes another appearance demanding the Queen as payment. The king refuses, kills the astrologer, but the golden cockerel loyal to his master swoops down and kills the king.
The larger than life figure of Benvenuto Cellini is certainly a character worthy of an opera. He was a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author, soldier, musician, playboy and gangster. Few composers possessed the mastery of orchestration as did Berlioz and Gergiev succeeded in milking it all from his orchestra which performed magnificently. This must be one of the hardest working orchestras in the world. It cannot be easy to keep up with their dynamic, over energetic and charismatic conductor. However Gergiev certainly gets spectacular results. The orchestra in both operas as well as the Requiem provided splendid support. Full marks also to the magnificent choir and many of the principal singers. Most impressive in the Rimsky-Korsakov was mezzo-soprano Oksana Shilova as the cockerel and Olga Trifonova as the queen. Tenor Andrei Popov as the astrologer and Alexei Tanovitski as the king also added weight to an impressive cast. Highest accolades in Benvenuto Cellini went to mezzo soprano Ekatrena Semenchyuk who took the role of Cellini’s apprentice. She was also one of the outstanding soloists in Verdi’s Requiem.
In addition to these main events, there were Capella concerts comprising excerpts from Rachmaninov’s Vespers as well as a Requiem by Alexander Kastalsky in memory of fallen soldiers of the First World War. These inspiring works were given an incandescent rendering by the outstanding Marinsky Choir under the direction of the very competent Andrei Petrenko.
Adding to the enjoyment were two outstanding pre-concert lectures presented by historian Allon Klebanoff who lucidly juxtaposed the operas and requiem into contemporary times and events.
Last year I mentioned that this festival has the potential of becoming one of the major music events in Israel. This prediction has been fulfilled. Nevertheless I humbly offer some simple advice to the organizers. To attract the international crowd, operatic subtitles title should also be in English with a detailed printed program for the chamber music events. The pre-concert lecture program should be expanded with a lecture in English. These is probably little to be done to improve the acoustics at this converted hanger at the Eilat port. Indeed similar difficulties plague almost all other major international outdoor festivals.
For me, the most unforgettable experience of the festival was a performance of Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras Suite No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos. Olga Trifonova who had taken on the demanding role of the Queen in the Golden Cockerel proved equally at ease in this emotional work. Through the window, the sun was setting over the desert and surrounding mountains. Viewing this as well as listening to the sublime music, was pure magic. The music loving public in Israel should in grateful to Valery Gergiev for putting Eilat on the international musical circuit.