[Met Performance] CID:351451
Metropolitan Opera Premiere
Mazeppa {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/06/2006.

(Debuts: Yuri Alexandrov, Gleb Filshtinsky

Metropolitan Opera House
March 6, 2006

Metropolitan Opera Premiere


Mazeppa.................Nikolai Putilin
Maria...................Olga Guryakova
Andrei..................Oleg Balashov
Kochubey................Paata Burchuladze
Lyubov..................Larissa Diadkova
Iskra...................Allan Glassman
Orlik...................Denis Sedov
Drunken Cossak..........Nikolai Gassiev

Conductor...............Valery Gergiev

Production..............Yuri Alexandrov [Debut]
Set Designer............George Tsypin
Costume Designer........Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer.......Gleb Filshtinsky [Debut]
Choreographer...........Sergei Gritsai

Co-production with the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Mazeppa received eight performances this season.

Production photos of Mazeppa by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of John W. Freeman in the May 2006 issue of OPERA NEWS

On March 6, the Met added another company premiere - "Mazeppa," Tchaikovsky's 1884 opera after Pushkin's epic poem "Poltava." When a new opera joins the repertory, one might hope for a straightforward, exegetical presentation. The old Mariinsky Theatre production, seen at the Met briefly during a Kirov Opera guest season in 1998, did the job. Tchaikovsky's own letters show his concern for Russian stagings to capture the Ukrainian ambience he held dear. This new one, however -- a joint production of the Met and the Mariinsky - assumes that we already know "Mazeppa," which most audiences outside Russia do not.

Though Yuri Alexandrov, in his Met debut, staged "Mazeppa" in largely tried-and-true patterns (apart from deploying some of the characters on the roof in a couple of scenes), the set designer, George Tsypin, let his imagination associate freely, filling the stage with cross-cultural, cross-period references. In the process of wondering what significance these might have, it would be easy to lose track of Tchaikovsky's dark, inward account of conflicting loyalties and the negativity of raw power. The music is uneasy, ruminative, emotionally compelling; Tsypin's images are more likely to be distracting, ironic or confusing.

Not always, to be sure; but the [first] scene was a case in point. After a pleasant tableau of sheaf-gathering on a Ukrainian farm, it segued into a Las Vegas spectacle, as dancers, guided by choreographer Sergei Gritsai and garbed (in lots of gold fabric) by costume designer Tatiana Noginova, milled and leapt about to amuse guests at the mansion of Kotschubey, a wealthy Cossack landowner. Overhead and in the background loomed white human and animal figures and bas-reliefs, pseudo-classical in style but made to look like modern plaster replicas, emphasizing their superficiality and impermanence. Getting back to the story, at the end of the scene Kotschubey is left alone with his friend Mazeppa, hetman (Cossack leader) of Ukraine; with whom he has a sudden, violent falling-out. Mazeppa means to marry Kotschubey's teenage daughter Maria, despite being her godfather and several decades her senior. His stubborn insistence, and Kotschubey's indignant refusal, trigger the power struggle and descending spiral of violence to follow.

In Tsypin's vision, a gallery of life-sized human figures is lined up across a bridge, held like a proscenium arch above the stage by a pair of openwork geometrical columns at either side. In the prison where Kotschubey is thrown by Mazeppa (Act II, scene 1), it becomes apparent that Tsypin has derived this square-cut archway from the entrance and watchtowers of a Nazi death camp, whose railway tracks and furnace now appear in a ghastly, blown-up news photograph that serves as backdrop. The statuary has started to crumble and disintegrate, Ponnelle-style, for its pieces to reappear in future scenes. Tsypin recycles other familiar tricks, such as the tilted ramp that occasionally heaves upward like an earthquake, or the split-level stage (second scenes of Acts I and II), creating a sense of entrapment for those in the lower chamber, or the floor strewn with strange objects (they turn out to be heads). Maria catches her father's rolling head after his execution, and at the end of the opera she develops a Salome-like fascination for a broken bust, to which (instead of to the dying Andrei) she directs her demented lullaby. Meanwhile, her loved ones reappear to her like statues out of a dream.

While all this was happening, the singers went about their business as if they knew all along they were taking part in a historical costume drama. Nikolai Putilin, his rugged bass voice commanding and expressively personal, cut a strong central figure in the title role. His costumes, appropriate to a tsar or boyar, were more conventional than those for the Ukrainian clansmen, who wore outlanders' outfits with ponytails atop their otherwise bald heads. As Kotchubey, Paata Burchuladze had recurrent trouble focusing his own impressive bass, but there was no doubt of his intent or strength. Olga Guryakova's keen soprano and pliable acting gave as much dimension as possible to Maria, who longs, like Senta in "Der Fliegende Holländer" for the man she idolizes in fantasy. If Guryakova's voice turned steely at forte, she needed its edge for ensembles and for her critical duet with Mazeppa (Act II, scene 2), when their infatuation veers toward estrangement. Female willpower emerged from the throaty mezzo of Larissa Diadkova's Lyubov, Maria's mother. In the tenor role of Andrei (playing Erik, as it were, to Maria's Serta), Oleg Balashov combined urgency and growing desperation with lyric shapeliness of line, while Allan Glassman, Denis Sedov and Nikolai Gassiev effectively characterized lskra, Orlik and a Drunken Cossack. Valery Gergiev conducted the score with the same searching inner ear that Tchaikovsky used in writing it, matching fervor with subtlety.

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