WHEN Anthony Steel was offered to get involved in the coming operatic spectacle “OperaMania” he jumped at the chance, and not just for the money.Steel, you see, loves all things Russian. He’s been a fluent Russian speaker since studying the language in English national service as a young man, an attribute all-too-rare in this monolingual society and exceedingly useful in the theatre.
Coincidentally, the only other major player in Aussie theatre with comparable Russian skills is entrepreneur Andrew Guild, the former creative partner with Michael Edgley. Steel recently wrote that he once declined an invitation by ASIO to spy on the Edgleys’ Russian connections.
So, here in Australia, we know about St Petersburg’s Kirov Opera, but what about this one?
Steel, who acts as the Australian go-between for the company, is just the man to reassure readers that “OperaMania” is a genuinely spectacular theatrical presentation, involving 10 Moscow Novaya Opera soloists, a 44 piece symphony orchestra and four dancers from the Russian Imperial Ballet.He rates it as “among the best 3 or 4 opera companies in the country.” And unlike any of ours, it has nearly 800 people on the payroll.
He became involved through the producer, an independent businessman and close friend of the resident stage director whom he’d met years ago in Adelaide. The producer was so impressed with Steele’s Russian and his executive skills that he approached him to become the show’s on-the-ground representative in Australia. Alas, the deal hasn’t involved a trip to Russia, so he hasn’t seen the artists perform, but the canny Steel is not one for hyperbole and he’s sure they are absolutely top notch.
You can check them out as I did — baritones Andrey Breus, Alexander Martynov and Igor Golovatenko, tenor Oleg Dolgov, bass Andrey Fetisov, sopranos Galina Koroleva Tatyana Pechnikova and Elena Terentieva and mezzo sopranos Irina Romishevskaya and Tatyana Tabachuk. piano virtuoso will be Ekaterina Kolpakova.
And the company? The Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow was founded in 1991 by the late Russian conductor Evgeny Kolobov, known as “fierce maestro”.
Kolobov’s dream had always been to found a more interpretative, inspired opera company than he had found at the Mariinsky (Kirov) and, once established, he staged all the traditional operas, big celebratory pieces with self explanatory names like “Maria Callas”, “Viva Verdi!” and dramatised concerts like “Bravissimo!” and the present show.Daringly, Novaya Opera was also the first in Russia to stage Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda”, Catalani’s “La Wally” and Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” in the original version.
“OperaMania” has been put together by Valery Raku, resident stage director for Moscow Novaya Opera. A former chief director of the Tatar Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, he describes the fast-moving production as a kaleidoscope of “excerpts carefully chosen to move between comedy, tragedy and lyricism,” without pause. Opulent costumes and high tech lighting will create the sense of large operatic settings.
Though Raku has been responsible for some of the more avant-garde productions for which Moscow Novaya Opera is known, as Steele points out, an international touring show like this one is not the occasion for experimental musical forays. Steel believes opera lovers will want to come, but he’s more concerned about the general public, those who aren’t familiar with opera.
Under the baton of Vasily Valitov, the singers and orchestra will perform recognisable favourites from opera, ballet and classical recital repertoire. “There’s never more than 2 or 3 minutes of anything,” Steel says.
The first half will include popular arias from operas by Rossini, Puccini, Bizet, Strauss and Mozart, but there will be several non-operatic interludes with music by Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov. Tchaikovsky’s music, of course, has the talents of dancers Yaroslava Araptanova, Igor Davydov, Anna Pashkova and Alexander Volkov to bring it to life.
The second half of “OperaMania” mixes dance, pure music and opera with works by Saint-Saëns,Verdi, more Puccini, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, Bellini, Gounod and Offenbach. The evening winds up with a lively excerpt from “Die Fledermaus,” with the whole ensemble on stage.
It’s enormous, it’s maniacal, it’s likely to showcase some of the most powerful voices ever heard on the stage of Llewellyn Hall. But where, I bleat, are the Russian operatic arias?
Well you can’t have everything at once, Steel argues. That might come next time. “I look forward to the day when they bring a fully-staged Russian opera to Australia,” he says.
“OperaMania” at Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm April 23- 24 April and 2pm on April 25, bookings to 1300 795 012 or ticketek.com.au