Review of Ensemble XXI Moscow’s Gala Concert of the Nordic Premiere of Haydn’s Opera “Orfeo and Euridice” in Ilomantsi, Finland
Helsingin Sanomat (the main Finnish National Daily newspaper with the biggest circulation of any paper in Scandinavia and Nordic Europe) 15.07.1996
COLORATURA WITH RUSSIAN EMOTION
Although there are many beautiful wooden Churches in Finland, the
IIomantsi Church one of the most beautiful. It is like a fairy tale. It
created the perfect atmosphere the Opera, Orpheus and Euridice. With
this music the Church celebrated its 200th anniversary. L’Anima
del Filosofo is the original title of the opera. It is a symbolic story
of life, death, love and a soul seeking its spirits even during the dark
night of death. Haydn’s Opera found its way to Ilomantsi Church as a
result of several fascinating coincidences. It has never been performed
in Finland or needed in Nordic Europe. Haydn’s opera was commissioned
by the King’s Theatre in London. However King George the III
prohibited its performance. Although the King had nothing against Haydn
himself, he and his son, the Prince of Wales, patronized rival theatres.
As the King’s theatre was under the patronage of the Prince of Wales,
the King didn’t want the Prince of Wales competing with his own
theatre, the Pantheon. Haydn was therefore a victim of the intrigues of
the English Royal family.
The world premiere took place in Florence in 1951 when Euridice was sung
by Maria Callas. The other great coloratura diva of our century, Joan
Sutherland performed Euridice in 1967 conducted by her husband Richard
Bonynge in Vienna and in Edinburgh. Without Dame Joan Sutherland, the
performance in Ilomantsi could not have taken place as she trained the
young Russian soloists for
this difficult task last autumn. The performance in Moscow with the
choir, soloists and Ensemble XXI Moscow was conducted by Richard
Bonynge. Haydn’s Opera represents typical 18th century
opera seria tradition where Virtuosi coloratura singing was at its peak.
Nothing is more foreign to the Russian vocal school than the light
baroque, bel canto technique with its sparkling, coloratura passages,
flexible vocal line and majestic phrasing.
However you could hear that these young singers had received excellent
coaching. The difficult passages succeeded very well and with great
Haydn’s Orpheus and Euridice is not a heroic ‘opera seria’ but a
sensitive and intimate story of love with its tragic end. The main
soloists of this performance, Ludmilla Shilova and the Tenor Nikolai
Dorozhskin were appealing as lovers who could be separated only by death
itself. The Russian emotional style suited this very well. Shilova has a
beautiful, sensitive lyric soprano voice which is already able to soar
to a dazzling coloratura of ecstatic heights. The voice has great
potential to grow even more. Dorozhskin is a brave singer, fearless in
the high register. His performance went from good to great in the course
of the evening. He brought out the poetic and tragic spirit of Orpheus.
The blind Baritone, Yuri Sarafanov, has a beautiful voice, which is able
to produce the most wonderful pianissimos. A colorful and very resonant
choir was made up of Maria Struve’s children’s choir and the
Helsinki Quartet Singers. The role of the choir is very important. It
was performing the monsters, the amorini, the maidens and men, the
unfortunate shadows in the underworld, the furies and the bacchantes.
The choir’s task was to create the terrifying fantasies and the magical
effects which belong to the opera’s underworld. However the fury of
the Bacchae and the monsters was covered with a fairy like beauty.
Thanks to Bonynge, the majestic beauty and poetical sensitivity was
revealed to the audience as was Haydn’s vitality and his inventive
effects. Bonynge’s conducting brought out
a sterling performance of the highest standard from the young
players of Ensemble XXI Moscow.