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Mazeppa [Monte Carlo]
04 Mar 2012

Mazeppa in Monte-Carlo

Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa is not everyday repertory, nonetheless here in the south of France the Monaco production follows fairly closely (a couple of years) on the heels of the Peter Stein Mazeppa in Lyon.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Mazeppa

Mazeppa: Tómas Tómasson; Maria: Tatiana Pavlovskaia; Kotchoubeï: Paata Burchuladze; Lioubov: Elena Manistina; Andreï: Dmitro Popov; Orlik: Gerard O’Conner; Iskra Vadim Zaplechni; Drunken Cosaque: Laurent Chauvineau. Salle Garnier. Choeur de l’Opera de Monte-Carlo. Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski. Metteur en scène: Dieter Kaegi. Scenery: Rudy Sabounghi. Costumer: David Belugou. Lights: Laurent Castaingt. (24 February 2012)


If Mr. Stein was preoccupied with the larger political implications of this ignoble moment of Russian history, metteur en scène Dieter Kaegi in this co-production with Opera Ireland dwells on the sordid personalities of its protagonists. Peter Stein’s Ukraine was its expanse, in Dublin and now Monaco the Ukraine became a small drawing room where a treacherous general seduces a gullible adolescent whose simple father naively tries to wreck revenge.

Peter Stein’s cast could not have descended to this basic humanity had it wanted to, but Mr. Kaegi’s cast was indeed able and maybe a bit too willing. Bass-now-baritone Tómas Tómasson made a handsome, just-graying Mazeppa whose intrinsic masculinity could not help but awaken the sensibilities of the gullible young Maria, the lithesome Tatiana Pavlovskaia.

The parents of Maria are quite comfortable, bass Paata Burchuladze was the very picture of bourgeois contentment together with mezzo Elena Manistina as his wife. Both are quite comfortable artists with fine, well used rich voices, and unobtrusive stage mannerisms. Maria’s intended, the plain, uncharismatic Andreï was Dmitro Popov who compensated with quite ample vocal charisma.

You get the idea, a great cast, all nurtured in Russian vocalism and style (though Mr. Tomasson is in fact Icelandic). Add Russian conductor Dmitri Jurowski for a clean sweep. Mo. Jurowski is perhaps a new breed of Russian conductor, all business, little pleasure in the smaller musical gestures that color Tchaikovsky’s more personal moments. The battle scenes roared, the confrontations howled, and finally Maria’s madness was relentlessly driven by the obliging Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo. The only thing lacking was poetry.

Mr. Kaegi (general director of Opera Ireland) together with designer Rudy Sabounghi and costumer David Belugou (both frequent contributors to Monte-Carlo productions) updated the action from Peter the Great’s reign to the 1930’s or so, a transposition it did not wear well. But never mind, the wigs, costumes and room furnishings were visually engaging (handsome and colorful indeed), and provided absolutely no sense of rural Ukraine in what must have been a fairly austere period (the 1930’s).

Unfortunately the supertitles, maybe faithful to Tchaikovsky’s text, often belied the staging, making a gap in the credibility of either. Like, for one example, the festive picnic at the execution of Maria’s father and the massive hammer and sickle banner that oversaw the scene. Orlik, Mazeppa’s thug aptly portrayed by Opera Ireland bass Gerard O’Conner, motivated his mutilation of Maria’s father by first shaving himself in the prison cell — evidently he just happened to have a straight razor that could have other uses.

This reduction of Mazeppa to a melodrama with all the trappings of a 1940‘s movie might have worked with a tighter theatrical technique. As it was the inconsistency of the staging with the libretto and the heavy handed use of staging leitmotifs prevented an effective realization of the concept. Mr. Tomasson’s over-acting and Mlle. Pavlovskaia’s mannered presence added a touch of soap opera caricature to production.

It was a festive evening in Monte-Carlo, the performance well appreciated by an international audience, the automotive artillery guarding the entrance to the opera house cum casino included an orange Koenigsegg CCX and a splendid vintage Mercedes Benz roadster.

Michael Milenski

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