The Brothers Karamazov - Mariinsky Theatre / Gergiev - Barbican, 1 February 2009
In Dostoevsky's novel, Ivan Karamazov says that if the Devil doesn't exist, then man has created him in his own image. It's a characteristically Russian formulation explored all three of the works presented in the Mariinsky's three-night Barbican mini-residency. The final one, Alexander Smelkov's The Brothers Karamazov, premiered last year in St Petersburg, was the least successful.
This is not the fault of the performers - craftsmanship and commitment were as evident here as in the earlier shows. But Smelkov tried to stuff too much of Dostoevsky's multi-layered, multi-voiced, immaculately tangled web of a novel into the opera's two and half hours and the result was a rambling, episodic sprawl that failed to sustain interest throughout. Perhaps it would work better on stage, though it's hard to see how much could be added to the dramatisation the Mariinsky's superb singers managed in the narrow strip of stage in front of the orchestra.
The music itself is bravely retro. It could have been written at any time in the last hundred years - Tchaikovsky with a dab of Prokofiev here and Shostakovich there. It's most successful in pastiche - of liturgical music, of gypsy dances, of Brahms. Elsewhere it wanders, tunefully but aimlessly, neatly orchestrated but rarely sparkling. An occasionally interesting evening's entertainment but not a great one.
Click below for some of the Mariinsky Theatre's production photos from the St Petersburg premiere: