Wagner, Die Walküre
If people are looking for Wagnerian voices these days, perhaps they need to spend more time looking around the post-Soviet space. There should be enough talent over here, some of which was on show tonight at a concert performance of Wagner’s Die Walküre at the Tschaikowsky Hall with the Russian National Orchestra under Kent Nagano.
The undisputed star of the evening was the Wotan, Aleksey Tanovitsky, a member of the Ensemble from the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg. He has a warm deep voice – more bass than baritone – and portrayed Wotan as a concerned father (indeed, only two characters in this opera are not Wotan’s children). I suspect he was also the member of the cast most familiar with his role, since, more than anyone else, he had a hard time standing still on stage and clearly wanted to act. He has a large gorgeous voice, which may not have the edge associated with Wotan when he gets angry, but he made his portrayal warm, engaging, and sympathetic.
There has been some hype about the search for a tenor capable of singing Siegmund. The man selected was Mikhail Vekua, a Georgian who was ethnically-cleansed from Abkhazia in the early 1990s and ended up at the Moscow Conservatory. I’ve seen him – and been impressed by him – before as Cavaradossi in Tosca at the Stanislavsky Opera. Small of stature, he nevertheless has the voice. This was his first-ever German role, and while he learned to sing in German (with good and clear pronunciation), he clearly does not speak a word of German. So he had to read closely from the text. When he tried acting and looked away, losing his place, which he unfortunately did often enough, he got the music right but had to insert nonsense syllables. And since he did not understand what he was singing, he did not always get the emotions right. I’m not convinced he is a Heldentenor, but perhaps if he gets comfortable in German then he may develop in that direction.
As Sieglinde, Svyetlana Sozdateleva had a relatively deep soprano voice capable of great swells of sound and emotional acting. The Armenian bass Vazlen Gazaryan sang a very dark, threatening, and impressive Hunding. These two could go on stage anywhere. Similarly, Kseniya Vyaznikova also held her own as a scalding and scolding Fricka. She made sure husband Wotan knew who was really the boss.
Unfortunately, there was one weak link: the title role. Larisa Gogolevskaya, as Brünhilde, another import from the Mariinsky, went sharp on most of her higher register. Her voice was big enough, but she should perhaps sing lower soprano roles.
For the Russian National Orchestra, this concert must have been doubly unusual. First, I do not believe they perform many complete operas. Second, I doubt they perform much Wagner. So not only did the music seem new to them, but they did not understand how to portray the drama. This is a shame, since the Russian National Orchestra is world-class and the playing was certainly up to standard. But Nagano, using a very crisp and clear technique, walked them carefully through it. Although there were a few missed cues, in general they responded to him, but had to think so much about the music that they may have forgotten that they were performing an opera. I also do not believe that this opera was in Nagano’s repertory previously. So the performance was steady but not insightful. At least Nagano clearly wanted the singers to shine, and kept a lid on the orchestra in order to allow the voices to predominate (although these were big voices, since the orchestra was on stage and not in the pit the potential was still there for the orchestra to overwhelm them, something Nagano ensured did not happen).
The acoustics halfway up the Tschaikowsky Hall are definitely better than in the more expensive seats. Now that I have sat here for two concerts, I can confirm that. Nevertheless, it does not come close to the now-closed Conservatory. And the hall was in full communist mode tonight: the lady in the cloakroom insisted on seeing my ticket before she took my coat (even though I had already gone through building security and a separate ticket control just to get that far, and had waited for ten minutes in the cloakroom line since the Stalinist architects built this hall with the world’s most inefficiently-designed cloak rooms – why else would I be giving her my coat if I were not there for the concert? There was another seemingly mandatory ticket check as well by the usher selling programs). Also rather oddly, the concert was five hours long (the full opera plus intermissions), but began at the usual Moscow start time of 7:00 p.m. as opposed to an early start time, and did so on a Monday night; I have no idea why they did not start this earlier and/or schedule it for a non-work-night. This does not bother me, since I am nocturnal, but must bother Russians who tend to be morning people – I suppose someone in Central Planning assigned them this night and since all concerts begin at 7:00 they were given no choice (better to do what we are told around here and never ask questions).