Mussorgsky, The Fair at Sorochintsy

Tried out a different opera house tonight: The Pokrovsky Chamber Opera.  It is named for its founder, a former artistic director of the Bolshoi (between 1943 and 1982, back when the Bolshoi was actually good), who after leaving the Bolshoi started his own small company, then known as the Moscow Chamber Opera.  He died a year ago at the age of 97, and the house has been renamed for him.

Small theater, seats about 100 – tonight they set the room up with the stage (actually, there was no stage, just an area where the sets were) in the middle and about 50 seats on either side, with aisles down the middle of each side to allow the performers to move on and off the stage and in and around the audience.  The chamber orchestra took about 1/3rd of the central area, and faced the wall, allowing the conductor a view to the singers and ensuring the orchestra did not drown anyone out.  The lobby/café was relaxed and had a certain charm, and before the start of each act a theater hand wandered through the lobby ringing a small dinner bell in order to alert people to take their seats.

The opera on the program was The Fair at Sorochintsy, by Mussorgsky.  This opera is almost never performed, mostly because it was never actually written in the first place.  Mussorgsky worked periodically, but never primarily, on this setting of a Gogol short story, but at the time of his death he had only completed fragments and sketches.  Several of his friends (including Lyadov, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Cui) decided to elaborate on different sections, mostly independently of each other.  Other composers have also subsequently worked on portions.  At different times in the 20th century, still other composers have decided to cobble these bits and pieces together, and it was one such version being performed this evening.  The resulting work is identifiably Mussorgsky, but naturally a bit disjointed and unpolished.  Still worth a listen.

This performance was fun.  Clearly, the cast had a good time out there.  Staging was kept as realistic as it might be for such a small performance space, but generally was designed to allow the performers to ham it up a bit, which they gladly did.  Pokrovsky himself was responsible for this production, originally put on in 2000.  The orchestra sounded a bit thin and student-ish, which it probably was, but the cast was solid across the board.

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