Composer: Piotr Tchaikovsky
Orchestra: Mariinsky Theater Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Iolanta: Anna Netrebko
Count Vaudémont: Sergei Skorokhodov
King René: Sergei Aleksashkin
Robert: Alexander Gergalov
Ibn-Hakia: Edem Umerov
Just as winter had been settling in New York and my friend Nicole had been settling in Barcelona, we decided that the time had come for me to go from my adopted home to hers, and by the same token expand my visit with a quick but relatively comprehensive exploration of Spain. Since no trip would ever be complete without some live music sooner or later, we made sure to time my four-day stay in her city with a promising performance, which in this case happened to be the concert version of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta featuring Russian super-stars Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko. As an added bonus, that would also allow me to take a peek at the beautiful Liceu, the classy building proudly standing up amidst the hustle and bustle of La Rambla.
My main interest in Barcelona had always lied in being able to get close and personal with some of Gaudi's most dazzling works, and I have to say that my eyes popped out for each and every one of them. I found the jaw-dropping sight of La Sagrada Familia (at the jaw-dropping price of 20 Euros - But anything to help the Spanish economy, right?), in particular, worth the trip all by itself. But I also got to happily enjoy unexpected musical treats such as a short but lovely recital by Nicole a casa and a rehearsal of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto during a guided tour of the Palau. On Sunday afternoon, however, we were totally ready for our eagerly anticipated detour in Russian culture.
A sweet little trifle - It contains only one act and nobody dies - inspired by the Danish play King René's Daughter, Tchaikovsky's Iolanta is mostly popular for its unabashedly lyrical score that gives singers plenty of opportunities to make the audience swoon. Since everybody on the stage would be Russian and presumably well acquainted with Russian culture, we figured that the conditions were optimal for a very satisfying musical experience. And we were pretty much right.
But, let's face it, while all the singers quickly proved to be up to task, all eyes were naturally fixed on an Anna Netrebko absolutely resplendent in a bright red gown. More importantly, she sounded definitely more comfortable singing this viscerally romantic part in her native language than she had been in her latest Met appearances. During the gorgeous duet with the Count Vaudémont, at the end of act 3, she belted out her lines with some more energy and passion that I am still amazed the attractive roof of the opera house did not collapse on us. Unsurprisingly, the huge ovation that followed was almost as long as the opera itself, but at least it allowed us to catch our breath.
To his credit, tenor Sergei Skorokhodov managed to steadily hold his own as the Count Vaudémont, and actually got better as the action progressed. Bass Sergei Aleksashkin was a wonderful King René, with his effortlessly dignified presence and deeply affecting singing. Although it is probably more challenging to impersonate characters without the context of a production, the seasoned cast did not seem to mind that lack of support and generally delivered totally convincing performances that significantly deepened my understanding of the story since the English subtitles were not available, my Spanish is precarious and my Russian nonexistent.
(The Catalan, on the other hand, proved occasionally helpful. Who knew I had it in me?!).
The Mariinsky orchestra sounded mightily good under the assertive baton of its artistic director and conductor. Even if Valery Gergiev is a world-famous jet-setting maestro, a special connection was unquestionably palpable between the music, the musicians, the singers and the conductor, which resulted in a very exciting musical adventure. I guess that if I cannot make it to Saint Petersburg anytime soon, the memory of this superb concert will do just fine for a while.