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Moscows Bolshoi Takes Maid of Pskov to Its Actual Setting

Published: August 10, 2010 (Issue # 1599)



  • Rimsky-Korsakovs opera proved an engrossing spectacle when it was given an open-air performance in the Pskov Kremlin.
    Photo: Damira Yusupova / Bolshoi Theater

In mid-July, the ancient city of Pskov, located on the far western edge of Russia near the borders of Estonia and Latvia, marked the 500th anniversary of its accession to the Grand Principality of Moscow. As part of the celebration, the citys huge and splendidly preserved Kremlin played host to a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakovs opera The Maid of Pskov, a highly romanticized account of an expedition undertaken by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1570 to place his stamp of authority on the city.

Musically, the performance proved to be of a very high standard, thanks to excellent work on the part of the chorus, orchestra and, with one exception, soloists of the Bolshoi Theater. But the staging by Yury Laptev, a former Mariinsky Theater baritone who now serves as advisor to President Dmitry Medvedev on matters of cultural development, verged on the primitive. And a much too gently sloped seating area caused a large part of the action to take place out of sight of all but a handful of the 4,000 spectators.

Nevertheless, the spectators, who filled every seat at the performance and at a dress rehearsal the previous evening, seemed to find The Maid of Pskov an engrossing spectacle. No doubt the pageantry, complete with armored soldiers on horseback and a contingent of the Tsars personal guards, plus a horde of extras, had much to do with keeping nearly all of both audiences in their seats to the very end. Adding to the allure was the historic significance of seeing the opera performed for the first time ever on the very spot where much of its story takes place.

Based on a play by mid-19th-century writer Lev Mei, The Maid of Pskov was the first of Rimsky-Korsakovs 15 operas and had its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1873. The role of Ivan the Terrible was a great favorite of legendary bass Fyodor Chaliapin, who performed it, most notably perhaps, in a production staged in 1909 as part of impresario Sergei Diaghilevs very first Saison Russe in Paris. It was last heard at the Bolshoi in 1999, in a brief run of performances that marked the final appearance at the theater of the greatly revered maestro Yevgeny Svetlanov.

Rimsky-Korsakovs score contains a couple of fine tunes that, as is typical of the composer, are played over and over again. Otherwise, it mostly relies on declamation, similar to, but not nearly as powerful or imaginative as that heard in Modest Mussorgskys almost simultaneously composed opera Boris Godunov. Later in his career, Rimsky-Korsakov produced yet another opera, The Tsars Bride, also adapted from a play by Mei and set in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, and came up with a much more compelling score.

Bass Alexei Tarnovitsky, borrowed for the occasion from St. Petersburgs Mariinsky Theater, sang a powerful Tsar Ivan, though his acting, like that of many others in the cast, harked back to the era of silent movies or, perhaps more accurately, to what was seen on the Russian operatic stage five or six decades ago. Vyacheslav Pochapsky, a veteran of the Bolshois 1999 performances, brought a still-resonant bass and great dignity to the role of Prince Yury Tolmakov, the Tsars appointed head of Pskovs government.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Dec. 19


Test your mastery of parlor games during Game Evening at the British Book Center. Learn how to play a variety of classic, mentally challenging games and use your newly acquired skills to crush weaker opponents. The event beings at 5 p.m.



Saturday, Dec. 20


The citys Babushkina Park on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony will be invaded by dozens of rocking-and-rolling Santa Clauses during todays Santa Claus Parade. Not only will they parade through the park but there will also be competitions amongst the festively-clad participants and a musical master class. There will also be a prize for the best-dressed Santa Claus.


Stock up your record collection during the Vinyl Christmas Sale at the KL10TCH bar on Konyushennaya ploschad today. Spend the afternoon perusing the records for sale while listening the classic, clean sound of records spinning out hits from a variety of musical genres and time periods.



Sunday, Dec. 21


The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the clubs website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts made from a plethora of sweet treats. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBAs and Capital Legal Services event Arctic Expedition this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



Wednesday, Dec. 24


The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.



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