Opera Debuts in St. Petersburg

"Tsaritsa", a new opera based on the life of Catherine the Great debuts at St. Petersburg's Alexandriinsky Theater this month.

“Tsaritsa,” a modern opera focusing on the life of Catherine the Great and composed by David Tukhmanov, arguably the most acclaimed Soviet-era melodist, will see its world premiere at St. Petersburg’s Alexandriinsky Theater on Wednesday and Thursday.

The opera, which boasts opulent sets inspired by the interiors of the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, covers the entire history of the empress’s reign.

“What I find especially precious about David Tukhmanov’s score is that it has tonal, rhythmic music, and, most importantly, it has melodies which have almost evaporated from opera as a genre since the times of Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich,” said Dmitry Bertman, the director of “Tsaritsa” and artistic director of Moscow’s Helicon-Opera Theater.

The staging will be performed by the soloists, choir and orchestra of the Helicon-Opera.

Tukhmanov’s melodies made him a living legend and one of the most admired composers during the Soviet era. He left Russia for Germany in the wake of perestroika when he found himself, like many musicians of his generation, out of work and thrown into oblivion.

It took Tukhmanov three years to complete the opera, which the composer said has been his top priority during that time. “I was engrossed by the idea completely and would not let anything else distract me,” he said.

The idea first came to the composer more than ten years ago when he was living in Cologne, Germany. He was working on the opera without any hope of ever having it staged, motivated entirely by inspiration.

“The first musical motifs date back to those times,” he recalls. “But I began working regularly on the opera three years ago, though it had not been commissioned. I was especially pleased by the fact that I was not limited or pressured by any orders.”

Tukhmanov’s enthusiasm proved to be infectious. He succeeded in winning over the poet Yury Ryashentsev to create the verse and libretto for the opera, and convinced the popular singer Lev Leshchenko to help in the crucial process of turning an ambitious idea into a real opera production.

Director Bertman said that “Tsaritsa” will be what he calls an “open opera” — a new approach to the traditional centuries-old genre. “In ‘Tsaritsa’ the audience will see a juxtaposition of a bold and contemporary acting style with traditional operatic singing,” he said.

“It has everything necessary to become a most captivating show: There will be lyrical arias, powerful choir scenes, a superb orchestral score and bell-ringing; the libretto is engaging and all of the historical events that constitute the structure of the opera are very well known to the public.”

Bertman hopes that the opera will interest a broad range of audiences, from traditional opera-goers to those who prefer lighter genres. “Tukhmanov’s opera bears a tangible yet tasteful flavor of a musical, so, in truth, the production’s genre is a kind of fusion, a cocktail of opera and musical,” the director said.

Opulence is key to the production’s sets, which feature dozens of mirrors, ornate furniture, expensive fabrics and nearly 700 candles.

The project’s ideologists stressed they were free to choose any venue in the city, but opted for the Alexandriinsky Theater with its beautifully restored historic interiors and stately monument to Catherine the Great in the garden opposite its entrance.

St. Petersburg opera-goers are familiar with Bertman’s work. His staging of Verdi’s “Nabucco” — renowned for the director’s very personal and psychological approach — has been running at the Mariinsky Theater since October 2005. Bertman’s production was originally created for Moscow’s Helicon-Opera, where it premiered in 2004 as a joint project with the Dijon Opera Theater and Paris’s Opera de Massy to high critical acclaim.

While most directors tend to interpret “Nabucco” as a story of confrontation between two nations, Bertman created a passionate drama, with almost Biblical characters who mask their weakness and loneliness with cruel brutality.nBertman’s signature style is to create opera shows that explore the connections and parallels between ancient times, historic events and the modern day on various levels.

The Helicon-Opera is one of Russia’s most successful musical theaters, having won eight prestigious Golden Mask awards — Russia’s most important award for the performing arts — since it was founded in April 1990.

Moscow audiences will have an opportunity to see “Tsaritsa” in November when the production will travel to the capital. The Moscow performances are scheduled to take place at the State Kremlin Palace on Nov. 25 and 26.

St. Petersburg Times
17 July, 2009

For more information on the opera, please visit;
TSARITSA - Alexandriinsky Theater