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The Arts

Triumphant re-opening of Stanislavskogo Musical Theatre
By Glenn Walters
Photo by Nikolay Tarkhov

The re-constructed auditorium of the Stanislavskogo and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater was finally inaugurated in September. In the summer of 2003, the theatre on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Ulitsa closed, for what was then expected to be a two-year-long period of renovation. But just as the work neared completion in May last year, a mysterious fire gutted the theater’s main auditorium. As a result, its scheduled re-opening was delayed for an entire season.

The inauguration was in the form of a pair of concert performances by the theater’s company of singers, dancers and orchestra. And this month (November) marks the return of full-scale opera and ballet. First off the mark is a new production of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet “Cinderella,” choreographed by the one-time balletmaster of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, Oleg Vinogradov. Later in the month come two nearly-new stagings of opera, Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the latter heretofore seen in Moscow only at a closed preview two years ago.

No doubt many music and dance lovers in Moscow, especially among those newly arrived during the past three years, are no more than vaguely aware of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s existence. To them it needs to be explained that the theater boasts a wide ranging repertoire which includes productions of opera – such as its Golden Mask award-winning versions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madame Butterfly” and Verdi’s “Ernani”, plus a personal favorite, Prokofiev’s “Betrothal in a Monastery” – at least on a par with the best to be found at the Bolshoi, and a large and mostly praiseworthy group of ballets that range from classics such as “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote” and “Giselle” to a distinctive set of contemporary works created by the theater’s former balletmaster, Dmitri Bryantsev, whose disappearance during a visit to Prague two summers ago remains as much a mystery as the fire that later destroyed its main auditorium.

The re-opening this autumn finds the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko presided over by a strong artistic team. Alexander Titel, author of some of the theater’s most inspired stagings, heads its operatic wing; former Bolshoi star dancer Mikhail Lavrovsky leads the ballet troupe; and the long-vacant position of chief conductor has now been filled by one of the most talented of a younger generation of Russian conductors, Felix Korobov. The theater’s roster of singers includes many excellent voices, including those of Olga Guryakova and Khibla Gerzmava, arguably the two finest sopranos to be heard anywhere in Moscow today, while among the ballet troupe are the not-to-be-missed ballerina Tatyana Chernobrovkina and a considerable number of other first-rate dancers.

The work to renovate the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko and to expand its premises to three times its former size commenced five years ago. The first phase of the project was completed in 2003, when the theater moved into brand-new administrative offices, ballet rehearsal halls, scenery and costume ateliers and storage facilities. 2005 brought to an end the second phase, with the inauguration of a new Small Stage and a so-called “Musical Drawing-Room,” designed to host intimate concerts, as well as the completion of new opera rehearsal halls, dressing rooms, scenery workshops, a huge glass-roofed atrium and two levels of underground parking.

The Small Stage, essentially a sizable black box intended for chamber-scale and experimental productions, has already seen action since early last spring. First with a delightful piece of Soviet nostalgia, Dmitry Shostakovich’s operetta “Moskva, Cheryomushki,” and later with a stylish version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte.”

The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich- Danchenko, as we know it today, dates from the eve of World War II, when a pair of opera troupes and a ballet company pooled their resources to form a single theatrical enterprise. The opera troupes were founded some twenty years earlier by two now-legendary theater directors, Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko – the former as the Opera Studio of the Bolshoi Theater, the latter as a musical offshoot of the Moscow Art Theater. Joining them was a company of dancers formed in the late 1920s and known as the Moscow Art Ballet.

Next on the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s schedule this season, following “Cinderella,” “Tosca” and “La Traviata,” will be a new staging by Titel of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” “I hope we can do it in January,” said the director in a conversation last month. “It all depends on how quickly things go with adjusting and testing the backstage equipment. Naturally, I want the best possible cast for the premiere. But those are artists who are often busy with guest appearances abroad,” mentioning, in particular, Olga Guryakova, who is slated to sing Tatyana. “I’ve managed to reserve them for January, so I pray there won’t be a postponement.”

March brings to the theater the distinguished American choreographer John Neumeier, to stage his dance version of Anton Chekhov’s play “The Seagull,” a work he originally created in 2002 for his own German company, The Hamburg Ballet. Neumeier is already well-known to Moscow ballet audiences for the highly successful staging of his ballet “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which he brought to the Bolshoi year before last.

The final premiere of the season, scheduled for June, will be Claude Debussy’s operatic masterpiece “Pelleas and Melisande,” which, rather surprisingly, has never before been seen on a Russian stage. An entirely French production team, including the wellknown conductor Marc Minkowski, will be imported for the occasion, and guest singers from France will take on at least some of the principal roles.

As for the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s existing large repertoire, the process of returning it to the main auditorium will be a gradual one, due to the adjusting and testing yet to be completed backstage. “We’ll first bring back the less technically demanding productions,” said Titel, mentioning “Madame Butterfly,” Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Tsar Saltan” as operas likely to appear again in early 2007, “but it will probably be the beginning of next season before we can stage our full repertoire.”

“On the Small Stage,” said Titel, “we’re limited there to works that only require a small-sized orchestra.” That means mostly operas written in the 18th century and after 1900.” Among those he has in mind for the future are operas by the foreign composers invited to the court of Empress Catherine the Great and by 20th-century Englishman Benjamin Britten.

For the main auditorium, Titel looks forward to a “Russian Season” in 2007-2008, with new productions of two seldom-heard classics, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “May Night” and Alexander Dargomyzhsky’s “Rusalka.” He also plans a staging of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” its title role beautifully suited to the coloratura soprano voice of Khibla Gerzmava. Also likely to be seen and heard in the fairly near future are Luigi Cherubini’s “Medea” and Leos Janacek’s “Jenufa,” a pair of imposing operatic tragedies that have been much neglected by Russian opera houses.

While offering some of the best of opera and ballet in Moscow, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko nevertheless manages to keep its ticket prices at bargain levels. Except for initial performances of new productions, when prices rise slightly, the best seats in the house cost a mere 550 rubles for opera and 700 rubles for ballet.

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