Tag Archive: Prokofiev

Tracing the History of the Bolshoi

Simon Morrison:
“Bolshoi Confidential”
512 pages, b/w illustrations
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-87140-296-7
November 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Bolshoi Confidential”, book cover © W.W. Norton & Company 2016Prompted by the abominable acid attack on Sergei Filin in early 2013, Nick Read and Mark Franchetti put the spotlight on what was going on behind the scenes of the Bolshoi Ballet. Their film “Bolshoi Babylon” was followed by a substantial book this October: “Bolshoi Confidential”, penned by Simon Morrison, professor of music at Princeton University focusing mainly on Russian and Soviet music. Morrison is an assiduous writer and the author of a number of books, two of them about Sergey Prokofiev. As it was for Read and Franchetti, the assault on Filin is also Morrison’s springboard. Yet he considerably widens the perspective on his subject.

The history of the Bolshoi, initially called Petrovsky Theatre, began in 1776, when Catherine the Great granted the Russian Prince Urusov exclusive rights for theatrical presentations. Urusov teamed up with the Englishman Michael Maddox, “either a mathematician or tightrope walker during his youth”, but financial straits forced him to surrender the reins to Maddox. Morrison takes us from there through almost 250 years of meandering, tumultuous evolution.

A stupendous amount of details and anecdotes illustrates how the Bolshoi overcame Napoleon’s invasion, then artistically prospered under imperial reign before being massively restricted in its artistic vitality by the Russian Bolsheviks. Three times destroyed by fire, the theater building has always been reconstructed on nearly the same place. It became bigger, more imposing and, though slowly, was equipped with the technical innovations of the time. Since 1825 it was commonly called the Bolshoi – meaning “Grand” – Theatre. (more…)

Hope is the last to die

“A Streetcar named Desire”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart Schauspielhaus
Stuttgart, Germany
May 30, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain, “A Streetcar named Desire” by J.Neumeier, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2015John Neumeier’s “A Streetcar named Desire”, based on Tennessee Williams’s drama of the same title, is probably not a piece one would be eager to see several times in a row. Unless one is hard-boiled. Calling it disturbing is too lenient. Its dense, oppressive atmosphere and brutal physicality that finally seals the mental destruction of its main character, Blanche DuBois, devours one. As food for thought, a single dose of this ballet brings along with it more than enough indigestion.
Neumeier has woven a masterful psychological drama, whose intensity might even surpass the stage play. What the dancers’ bodies express is more direct than any spoken word. Stuttgart Ballet has now again revived the two-act piece which Neumeier had created for the Baden-Wuerttemberg company in 1983. Back then the forty-six year old Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun danced the leading characters, Blanche and Stanley.

Neumeier begins the story with its end. When the curtain rises we see Blanche (Alicia Amatriain) sitting on a bed in an asylum. She is elegantly dressed but looks distraught. Flashbacks are tormenting her, making her tremble. What has happened unfolds in cross-fades, not necessarily following the story’s chronological order. Music from Prokofiev’s “Visions fugitives op.22”, fragmented like Blanche’s memories, underscores the first act’s nostalgic, subdued mood. (more…)