Queen of Spades - Mariinsky Theatre / Gergiev - Barbican, 30 January 2009
The Mariinsky Theatre scored an undisputed away win with the first opera of their three-night Barbican residency.
And a two-fingered salute to those who whine that Gergiev doesn't rehearse enough.
Maybe he didn't rehearse this at all - I don't know - with his non-stop schedule it's hard to see how he could fit much in. But 'enough' rehearsal is however much the ensemble in question need to achieve the required results. With a competent orchestra who know the work, are nurtured in the same traditions as the conductor, and appreciate that half the joy of music-making is those unexpected moments of inspiration, then maybe rehearsals can be shelved altogether. It helps of course that Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades is a Mariinsky staple. But this was no warhorse plod, it was a faultless and minutely-detailed performance, fresh and alive.
The Barbican has a notoriously lousy acoustic, but Gergiev's LSO job has taught him how to work it. You could believe it was the best concert hall in the world, so perfect was the balance between the lusciously warm Mariinsky strings, the dazzling brass and whispering winds. And with the singers lined up out of sight in front of him, there must have been some kind of ESP at play - no slips, no imbalances. No wallowing either. Gergiev's pace was brisk and his accents decisive, sugar-free romance that displayed the full palette of Tchaikovsky's remarkable orchestral colouring.
Last week most of the cast were performing the opera in the Mariinsky Theatre itself. They brought all the physical expressivity of their staged performance to this no-scores-required concert version, and the drama came alive in a way it rarely does in the concert hall. Not one performance was less than strong, and some were very good indeed.
Larissa Diadkova simply *is* the Countess, grand but vulnerable, burdened by her terrible secret, conveying with the twist of a note the omnipresent fear of death lurking beneath the silver-spoon graciousness. With the nostalgic reverie of her Grétry aria she held the audience spellbound.
Vladimir Galusin is a sort of Russian Domingo with a dark, baritonal quality beneath his bright ringing tones, and he gave an intense and powerful performance as Herman. I didn't quite buy the transition from lovelorn innocent to manic gambler, but I think that's as much Tchaikovsky's fault as any singer's, and a problem that disappears in a good staging.
The noble baritone of Alexey Markov produced the most purely beautiful singing of the night in the short part of Yeletsky. And Kristina Kapustinskaya, doubling up as Polina and Milovzor, should be on everyone's watch list - an outstanding smoky-timbred mezzo with a haunting quality that stops you in your tracks.
The quality of the chorus was underlined when Viktor Antipenko stepped up out of the ranks to perform the small roles of Master of Ceremonies and Chaplitsky. Many opera houses would be happy to have a clear big voiced tenor like that singing their leads.