Bringing down the
curtain on the Vremena Goda Festival this year was the Festival's first-ever
operatic offering - Poulenc's "La Voix Humaine". 2004 has been something
of a treat for Poulenc fans in Moscow, who have had little to celebrate
hereto - but this year we've had both The Carmelites (in a searing Helikon
Opera production) and now La Voix Humaine. The chances of getting Les
Mamelles de Tiresias as a Christmas cracker are a little remote, however
- by Christmas, two of Moscow's four main houses (Stanislavsky-Muzykal'ny
and Helikon) will be in mothballs for long-overdue reconstruction work.
The Bol'shoi struggles to stay open despite having the builders in the
lobby, and only Novaya Opera enjoy the luxury of adequate new facilities.
In a staggering waste of resources, the Vishnevskaya Opera Theatre is
kept dark for all but 2-3 nights per month, when students of the Opera
School perform at its prestige-address new premises.
We had better get
used to concert performances, therefore - and this Voix Humaine throws
down a gauntlet others will struggle to lift. A much-expanded Vremena
Goda Orchestra took the stage. This is an ensemble that seems to do an
awful lot of "public function" work - everything from accompanying child
prodigies through Vivaldi to live music for the civic events of Moscow's
embattled City Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. If they've been a little lowbrow up
to now, those eyebrows were definitely raised in anticipation of the Poulenc
brought a sensitive hand to the score, and coaxed transparent textures
from his augmented ensemble. In Bol'shoi Theatre artiste Elena Voznesenskaya
he found the perfect soloist - now based in Paris for family reasons,
Voznesenskaya's French is second nature to her. Sometimes rejoicing lyrically,
at other times half-speaking the gut-wrenching disappointments of her
character's solitary life, she found the whole emotional range needed
for the piece. It was a great pity she was so physically hemmed-in by
the surrounding violins and violas - when there was space to spare on
the Conservatory's ample stage in the Great Hall? The balance might have
been better - Poulenc's occasionally gluey orchestration threatened to
muffle Voznesenskaya's nuances in places. The overall result, however,
was excellently stylish and succeeded in being very moving. Probably if
the audience had been given at least a synopsis of the story, it might
have been even better received?
The remainder of
the program was non-vocal. Alexander Brusilovsky performed a new violin
concerto by French composer Yves Prince - who conducted his own work in
person. Brusilovsky then took the baton himself, for a performance of
Rodion Schedrin's heavy-handed arrangement of a "Suite from Bizet's Carmen"
(for strings & percussion). This miserable piece of soviet-era bombast
is really long overdue for retirement from the concert hall - it was a
pity that an evening that began so diaphonously descended into such fustian
histrionics for the Festival's close.
Neil McGowan © 2004