The Kirov Was Here
Richards, Denby, Blewitt, David, Taylor, Peter, Musical Opinion
FROM: Denby Richards
In the Spring issue I looked forward to the June and July visits at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden of the Ballet and Opera Companies from the Kirov Theatre in St Petersburg. At the time I knew these performances would be memorable. What I did not know was that they would maintain such an outstanding standard throughout. That Valery Gergiev has inspired the Kirov artists, technicians and general staff with his own commitment to constantly strive for perfection in the cause of true art and the need to communicate their own belief in artistic truth was demonstrated night after night on the Covent Garden stage.
We used to sit in wonder at the sheer brilliance allied to musicianship of the highest degree of the Soviet era's Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Now the St Petersburg SO carries on that tradition but the Kirov Orchestras, whether on tour with Ballet or Opera troupes, in the concert halls of the world or in the recording studio represent some of the finest instrumentalists to be heard anywhere in this new Millennium.
Thanks to Victor and Lilian Hochhauser's long and fruitful relationship with the finest Russian artists and their foresight in bringing both the Bolshoi and Kirov companies, including Ballet and Opera productions from both companies within a few months of one another. Certainly, together with the Friends of the Kirov in London, they put the icing on the Kirov cake by bringing the Ballet Company back with such goodies as Don Quixote and Firebird to further whet the London audience's appetite.
Looking at the Ballet again in their second visit within weeks was to relax with old friends and the Fokine Triple Bills, both containing what must be the most thrilling Scheherazade on stage in our time, with changes of cast which offered new spice with different characterisations from equally exciting dancers, was an all too rare treat.
The operas were a revelation. Here Gergiev brought his personal charisma to the rostrum and the orchestra responded with playing which refused to even suggest that such neglected pieces as Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko or Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa were inadequate when compared to their composers' other works. I left the theatre on each occasion determined that both operas should be taken up by our own leading companies, but soon found myself wondering if they could find the inner conviction which emanated from the Kirov casts.
Without doubt Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina and Prokofiev's War and Peace were magnificent achievements in every department. Shostakovich's work on Mussorgsky's score and sketches is as monumental as Anthony Payne's work on Elgar's Third Symphony. I felt Mussorgsky's presence throughout and was gripped by his concept of the Russian people as deeply as I am during a great production of Boris Godunov. Indeed, the two are twin pillars of genius by a misunderstood, if flawed, composer.
War and Peace is recognised as a great opera but what Gergiev has done is to have it staged by a Russian film-maker and writer who is as comfortable and individual in Hollywood as he is in his native country. Andrei Konchalovsky's considerable experience also embraces the world of opera and he has been able to project a sense of intimacy within the vaster canvas of Napoleon's war against Russia, so that the many characters are given important human parts to play. Konchalovsky's vision brings Tolstoy's masterpiece closer than I have found it before and this creates a projection of Prokofiev's ideas of his homeland's history which I am sure will keep it on the world stages for many years to come. Happily, too, this War and Peace is a co-production between the Kirov in St Petersburg and New York's Metropolitan.
So, the Kirov have returned to their travels. Only by taking their excellence around the world can they stay alive in a commercial world. Yet, their touring must also bring special challenges to these remarkable artists and their irrepressible leader. …