A Georgian director is staging a Russian opera about a treacherous Ukrainian at the Bolshoi Theatre. The production is a political and cultural landmark.
Sergei Bondarchuk, one of the foremost Soviet film directors, directed the Bolshoi's last production of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa" 20 years ago. The world renowned Georgian stage director, Robert Sturua is directing this year's performance of the opera.
On opening night, the audience witnessed a monumental pageant of raging passions. Georgy Aleksi-Meskhishvili designed the lavish scenery and costumes. The production rivals the Bolshoi Theatre's famous "Boris Godunov".
The spontaneity of life is the central theme of Robert Sturua's interpretation of "Mazeppa".
Sturua has removed the melodramatic aspects of Tchaikovsky's music and transformed the opera from a love story in a sweet, sentimental and folk Ukrainian setting into a profound philosophical parable of power lust and overwhelming ambition.
In Sturua's interpretation, the opera revolves around the deadly confrontation of Mazeppa and Kochubei-two powerful leaders. The love story recedes into the background, as little emphasis is placed on the fact that Mazeppa is the lover of Kochubei's daughter, Maria. The struggle for power forces Mazeppa and Kochubei to abandon their emotions. Kochubei does not denounce the plotting Mazeppa to Peter the Great because Mazeppa is seducing his daughter - that romance merely threatens Kochubei's political career.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, separation of Ukraine (where the opera is set) and Georgia (the director's native land), gives the plot line a contemporary political undertone. Today, the early 18th century story of Mazeppa, a hetman (chief) of the Ukraine, betraying the Russian Emperor for an alliance with Poland is a dramatic antecedent of a future separation of two Slavic nations, who have given up their centuries-old ties.
The current political developments have given the opera new meaning and offer further proof that the Bolshoi Theatre made the right choice in presenting it. The new general director of the Bolshoi Theatre, Anatoly Iksanov is transforming it into a contemporary theatre.
Last year the Bolshoi Theatre made a series of daring innovations. It presented Laurence Olivier award winner Declan Donnelan's trailblazing production of Sergei Prokofiev's ballet, "Romeo and Juliet". Mr Donnelan collaborated with the young and brilliant Belarussian choreographer, Radu Poklitru.
Eimuntas Niakrosius, a Lithuanian celebrity, brought his interpretation of Verdi's "Macbeth", which was first staged in Florence, Italy, to the Bolshoi Theatre. Yelena Zelenskaya starred as Lady Macbeth and Vladimir Redkin was the lead. This performance of "Macbeth" was the first great opera performance in 150 years on Russian stage. The Lithuanian director has changed the cliche-ridden Bolshoi company with his elegant innovative production.
The new course of the Bolshoi Theatre was solidified when Alexei Ratmansky was appointed chief ballet master. He started his Bolshoi career with "The Limpid Stream", an avant-garde ballet to Dmitry Shostakovich's music. But the comedy about the life of collective farmers enraged Joseph Stalin and the production was banned. Now, Ratmansky has produced a daring revival of the ballet. He preserved the grand Soviet style and has updated its rustic archaism with modernist dancing. In his production, one can see dancing statues of the giant fountains at the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements in Moscow (now All-Russia Exposition Centre) the men and women dancing with fruits, vegetables and tractors. Ratmansky's comic inventions delighted Grand Opera audience when the Bolshoi had guest performances in Paris last month.
The Bolshoi Theatre made an impressive $40 million last year. Salaries have increased fivefold, and presidential grants to leading performers have become comparable to those that stage stars receive in Europe. It also proves that Bolshoi Theatre has received a new lease of life.