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Culture news, 23.05.2007 15:30

Starry, starry nights

festival By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Valery Gergiev’s internationally acclaimed “Stars of the White Nights” festival opens Friday with a performance of Mussorgsky’s epic opera “Khovanshchina,” with Gergiev conducting and mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as Marfa.

This year the festival’s focus moves to the newly opened Mariinsky Concert Hall, where many recitals take place, although its traditional program of operas and ballets continues to offer a feast of mouthwatering performances at the Mariinsky Theater itself.

Some of the Mariinsky’s brightest opera and ballet stars, including Borodina, tenor Vladimir Galuzin, bass Nikolai Putilin, soprano Anna Netrebko and ballet dancer Ulyana Lopatkina are lining up alongside international guests that include this year, among others, the celebrated Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier, baritone Thomas Hampson, bass Rene Pape and violinist Maxim Vengerov.

No other classical music festival in Russia — and few around the world — could think of showcasing the array of classical celebrities that Gergiev’s festival typically assembles.

During the festival’s fifteen-year history the list of star participants has included tenor Placido Domingo, soprano Renee Fleming, bass Paata Burchuladze, conductor Riccardo Muti and the orchestra of Milan’s La Scala Opera House, conductor Esa Pekka Salonen and pianist Alfred Brendel.

Among the festival’s greatest highlights will be a series of concerts marking 125th anniversary since the birth of Igor Stravinsky, including a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Gergiev on June 17, the composer’s birthday.

The opera program includes three brand new productions. On May 31 the company premieres a new version of Puccini’s evergreen masterpiece “Tosca.” Directed by Paul Curran and designed by Paul Edwards, the show will feature renowned soprano Maria Guleghina, who is recognized as one of the finest interpreters of the role of Floria Tosca on the international operatic scene.

On June 21, the Mariinsky will present a new version of Prokofiev’s opera “The Gambler,” staged by Temur Chkheidze and designed by Zinovy Margolin. For the premiere the role of Alexei will be sung by Galuzin.

July 6 sees a rare performance of Hector Berlioz’s opera “Benvenuto Cellini” at the Mariinsky’s brand-new concert hall. The production will be staged by Vasily Barkhatov and designed by Margolin, responsible for the Mariinsky’s recent production of Leos Janacek’s opera “Jenufa.”

The event’s ballet program traditionally incorporates Marius Petipa’s grand-scale classical works from the troupe’s trademark repertoire as well as the company’s most recent experimental premieres. This year this includes ballets by George Balanchine and Michel Fokine and two sets of one-act ballets that originally premiered at the Seventh International Mariinsky Ballet Festival last month, including a reconstruction of Marius Petipa’s “Le reveil de Flore” and a bold contemporary work “Wie der Alte Leiermann” set to a piece by St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov.

On July 7, the ballet troupe premieres another contemporary work, Peter Quanz’s ballet “Aria Suspended,” set to Stravinsky’s Symphony in C Major. Quanz is a young and aspiring Canadian choreographer, who has caught the attention of the critics with his ballets for the respected American Ballet Theater.

A significant proportion of the festival’s program will be performed at the Mariinsky’s new state-of-the-art concert hall. The concert program includes the Mahler Symphonies Series conducted by Gergiev. The festival’s Stravinsky tribute incorporates works by the composer and contemporaries such as Prokofiev, Bartok, Schoenberg, Debussy and Sibelius.

The new hall will host recitals by a string of renowned Russian-born musicians, including violinist Maxim Vengerov (May 27), violinist Vadim Repin (June 17), pianist Alexander Toradze and violinist Nikolai Znaider (June 23 and 27 ).

Soloists from the celebrated Wiener Collage Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra will perform works by Schoenberg, Bartok, Vysotsky and Staar on July 1.

Two of the classical music world’s most audacious divas, Lopatkina and Netrebko, are making appearances. Lopatkina, the Mariinsky’s prima ballerina, appears in “Swan Lake” on May 19 and June 9, and again in “La Bayadere” on June 1, while glamorous soprano Netrebko gives a solo recital at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on May 25.

Pianist Hampson gives a recital at the concert hall on May 29 and bass Pape performs scenes from Russian operas, also at the concert hall on June 17 and then appears as Filippo II in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” on June 19 at the Mariinsky Theater. Finnish National Opera soloist Jorma Silvasti will sing Laca in “Jenufa” on June 24 June, and Vasily Gerello gives a solo recital at the concert hall on July 2.

German mezzo-soprano Meier, particularly known for her Wagnerian roles appears in a program of works by Wagner at the concert hall on July 3.

Ballet audiences will be pleased to see Svetlana Zakharova in “Don Quixote” on July 4 and Diana Vishneva in “Romeo and Juliet” on July 9 and “Scheherazade” on July 15.

The Mariinsky Theater will also continue the tradition — established at “Stars of the White Nights” festivals in recent years — of adapting its shows to the exteriors of Vyborg Castle and Ivangorod Fortress for special outdoor performances. Tchaikovsky’s “Mazeppa” will be performed in the castle at Vyborg near Finland on June 25 and again in the fortress at Ivangorod near Estonia on July 7.

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(c) 2000