Thursday, June 11, 2009

'The Enchanted Wanderer' - what about the audience?

Second night of the International Opera Festival in Vilnius, and we had Shchedrin's opera 'The Enchanted Wanderer', again produced by the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, with Gergiev conducting.  That funny little American was around again, he who was sleeping with next to me the previous evening. Seems he is a serious fan possibly of the band - before the show started he was crawling round the artist's entrance, where the musicians were still enjoying a smoke; the look on his face was a picture - like a five-year-old who was meeting Father Christmas for the first time.

What would you think about hearing the title? Maybe the 'Wizard of Oz'? Or 'Die schöne Müllerin'? Well, das Wandern was definitely not this guy's Lust.  It seemed to be more of a Faustian/Soldier's Tale type story, where a guy sells his soul to the devil, then loses his money to the gypsies (well-done, Mr Shchedrin, another triumph for political correctness - I just hope it was an old story you used; couldn't he have misspent his money in a brothel or something), then it seems his wife dies and he becomes a monk (says the reviewer, using the visual clues).   Have to say that Stravinsky told that tale vastly more amusingly, and briefly.  Not sure if 'enchanted' is the best translation - maybe more like 'bewitched'...

So here we had a stage covered in reeds; a huge choir sitting at the back of it, using sheet music (I later realised that they were probably representing nuns and monks), and some young men taking various roles as land labourers and so on - to add a bit of movement to a very staid direction. There were 3 singing parts, a bass, a tenor and a woman's voice (soprano?, not sure), plus the orchestra. To say that the piece was sparsely orchestrated, at least from where I was sitting (could not see them to assess the amount of playing) is a bit of an understanding. It sounded like large chunks of the band were not playing most of the time.

The music was perfectly pleasant, nothing of 12-tone or other experimental stuff about it - Shchedrin tends to write accessible music - and the singing was good (the tenor was a bit screechy, but a very funny actor, on those rare occasions that he did some). The main singer, the bass, mainly stood around and sang - the woman, who started being an old woman, but then became younger (or was a different character) did some acting and dancing. I am not sure how to bring across the boredom of the piece; it kept being interspersed with the choir singing prayers (not to enough effect, given the story line). What was worse was that I thought it had two parts, and the first part went on and on for 1 hour 50 minutes or so - I began to wonder what else they could possibly tell in the story, but it seems there was only the first part.  Thank god for that.

It did contain some lovely Russian music, sacred-sounding and profane, and would have been nice to listen to at home over a glass of wine, but as a spectacle it was just too slow.  The bass, as he become a monk, ended on a note so low that even I could not reach it (I can just make the C two octaves below middle C...) - if he had held it any longer his guts would have spilled out.  A clear Russian signature note, no? Think of the Don Cossacks' choir.

So nice music, well-played, shame about the spectacle - though that tenor's 'ministry of funny walks' department (deportment?) was amazing!