The musical album A Night at the Bolshoi is a tribute and an expression of admiration of the ensemble members to the works by the great masters whose operas and ballets form the basis of the Russian Bolshoi Theatre repertoire.
Music lovers will appreciate the new interpretation by the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet. Musical hits in the Quintet’s interpretation, on the one hand, are based on the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra performance traditions and, on the other hand, are unique in their original performance and interpretation. The fantasia, potpourri and intermezzo genres featured in the new album clearly demonstrate the virtuoso musicianship of the Quintet players for whom these arrangements were composed.
The Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet programme includes both original works written specifically for the quintet and arrangements of classical works, including excerpts from operas and ballets from the Bolshoi Theatre repertoire, transporting us to performances at Russia’s main musical theatre.
The Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet has an unusual composition: unlike a string or brass quintet, the instruments comprising the classical wind quintet are completely different by nature. Blending together, like colours on the artist’s palette, the 5 pure timbres produce an astounding array of shades and hues as if they were the 5 forces of the universe, the 5 elements or the 5 senses.
The album dedicated to the music from the best Bolshoi Theatre productions opens with P. Tchaikovsky’s Overture to his ballet The Nutcracker (arranged for the wind quintet by A. Prischepa). With the first sounds of his Overture, we are immersed in a wonderful Christmas fairy tale.
In January 1891, after the resounding success of P. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty, the imperial theatre director I. Vsevolozhsky commissioned the composer to create a spectacular fairy-tale ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
The libretto for the future ballet was commissioned to the renowned choreographer Marius Petipa.
Based on the libretto by M. Petipa, P. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker is a musical story showing that miracles do happen in our human world. Through a joint effort by the composer and the librettist, Hoffmann’s tale of love between a kind girl and an enchanted young man turned into a dream ballet. The Nutcracker divided the history of ballet into before and after, becoming a hallmark of Russian ballet around the world.
The Nutcracker was created by P. Tchaikovsky in the 1890s, at the turn of the century. Researchers of the composer’s work repeatedly wrote about the inexhaustibility and mystery of The Nutcracker. Indeed, the polyphonic, multifaceted quality and, more importantly, the author’s desire to present and resolve in his own way the most complex philosophical problems of human existence are inherent in this late-period musical and theatrical opus of Tchaikovsky that are the main reasons why this ballet feels so contemporary and relevant to each new era that it faces at various angles.
After Napoleon’s death, there was another man they discussed everywhere: in Moscow and Naples, in London and Vienna, in Paris and Calcutta. This man’s fame is confined only to the limits of civilisation, and he is only 32 years old. That’s how the great Gioachino Rossini was described of by an ardent admirer of his genius, the French writer Henri Marie Beil, known under the pseudonym Stendhal.
Indeed, the fame of the author of The Barber of Seville went far beyond the Italian borders. But the world success did not turn the maestro’s head: he remained a subtle and vulnerable man with a strong sense of humour, irony and self-irony. It is also known that G. Rossini was not only one of the greatest composers of all time, but also an excellent cook who considered cooking and beautiful music to be two trees with the same root. The great composer strived to achieve harmony in cooking until the end of his life.
The famous virtuoso flutist and composer Giulio Briccialdi was called Paganini of the flute by his contemporaries. Following Maestro Rossini’s recipes, he prepared a stunningly refined musical dish for the wind quintet: a Fantastic Potpourri on the themes of G. Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville. In essence, this is veritable instrumental theatre: the oboe plays the seductive Rosina; the clarinet acts as the enamoured Count Almaviva (Lindor); the bassoon represents the grumpy guardian Don Bartolo, the old schemer Don Basilio is played by the French horn and the flute takes the lead role (Figaro): this preference of the flutist author is easily explained.
Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is rightly ranked among the most popular operas on stages around the world. 125 years ago (in 1896), it premiered in Turin for the first time. The libretto of La Bohème is based on the novel Scenes of Bohemian Life by the French writer Henri Murger, which tells the story of the lives of talented but poor young poets, artists and musicians who live in the Latin Quarter in Paris. The opera is set in Paris in the 1930s.
The Bolshoi Theatre revisited Puccini’s La Bohème on several occasions, including its premiere in 1996 (to mark its centenary) directed by Austrian director Federik Mirdita, who had worked with the renowned maestro Herbert von Karajan.
Rodolfo in La Bohème is based to a considerable extent on the author of the eponymous novel (Henri Murger) that inspired Puccini to create a true operatic masterpiece. This biographical nature inspired Nikolay Popov, one of the members of the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet and the author of a number of works composed specifically for this musical ensemble to write a musical memoir.
The memoir genre has a long and difficult development history; it became a way to share spiritual experience with generations. With a complex structure, it combines elements of other genres of various kinds. This is also true of The Memoirs of Rodolfo (Fantasia on the Themes of G. Puccini’s opera La Bohème by N. Popov.
In their compositions based on famous operas, the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet members frequently employ fantasia, a genre of instrumental (and occasionally vocal) music that defies the conventional composition norms and requires improvisation and creative experimentation in all composition techniques and means of expression. The fantasia genre evolution is also inseparable from the development of instrumentalism in general. It was no coincidence that fantasia was the favourite genre of the Romantic composers, who prioritised free self-expression.
Prosper Mérimée, one of the most prominent representatives of French critical realism, was closely associated with the Romantic movement. In his novellas (including Carmen), Merimee solves a difficult issue: how to show the history of entire peoples and other eras through the events in the lives of his characters. Like his friend Stendhal, he was interested in the history of morals.
On March 3, 1875, Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen (libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy) premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris and later in all the opera houses around the world. In Russia, this opera was performed since 1885, in the translation by Alexandra Santagano-Gorchakova, a famous opera singer, music teacher and translator.
The best words about the immortality of this opera by G. Bizet belong to the innovative director and founder of the Chamber Theatre, A. Tairov and the great contemporary of the Carmen author, P. Tchaikovsky. The former noted that the charm of Carmen lies in the remarkable synthesis of music, theme and plot, in the marvellous fusion of music, libretto and action, all of which express its main idea. And P. Tchaikovsky was one of the first to appreciate the work by G.Bizet for what it’s worth. Bizet’s opera, he wrote, is a masterpiece, one of those few things destined to reflect in the strongest degree the musical aspirations of an entire era. In 10 years’ time, Carmen will be the most popular opera in the world. And as time showed, both proved right.
The protagonists of P. Mérimée – G. Bizet are driven by selfish passions. Carmen and José can only hear the voice of their own pride. In their quest to assert themselves, they destroy other people without the slightest remorse. And this terrible sin leads the characters to physical, mental and spiritual ruin. This is the main idea in the musical dramaturgy of Passion and Sin, a Fantasia on the themes of G. Bizet’s opera Carmen by Nikolay Popov.
The first performance of N. Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride took place one year after the opera’s completion, on October 22, 1899 at Mamontov’s Private Russian Opera in Moscow. Since then, this opera has been a hallmark in the Russian opera theatre repertoire and become a favourite work of numerous audiences.
In his Fantasia on the Themes of the Opera The Tsar’s Bride, N. Popov, following in the footsteps of N. Rimsky-Korsakov, uses first and foremost such a powerful expressive means as broad vocal melody. Emphasis on folk song traditions and a flowing cantilena are the basis of the vocal style of all Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas, but these features are most vivid in The Tsar’s Bride.
The wholesome nature of Marfa is contrasted by the complex and contradictory one of Lyubasha. Though Lyubasha poisoned Marfa, she is nevertheless not the one seen as the chief culprit in the death of the Tsar´s Bride. In essence, Lyubasha is a cordial, passionate and loving Russian girl. But life broke her and, in a fit of despair and madness, she resolves to commit a crime only to pay for it with her own life.
So the principal personification of evil that destroys the opera’s main characters is Madness Poison: this is how N. Popov titled his Fantasia on the Themes of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tsar’s Bride.
Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades is as inexhaustible and mysterious as his ballet The Nutcracker. A great number of research works, reviews and essays were devoted to it, but its riddles and mysteries continue to attract and fascinate. It is no accident that the opera’s basic genre is the ballad, the most mysterious genre of Romantic literature characterised by a multi-component plot combined with elements of fantasy and twisted intrigue.
It would probably take 1,000 years to comprehend all the meanings of A. Pushkin’s novella and P. Tchaikovsky’s opera. But for the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet musicians, according to Sergey Lysenko, the author of Fantasia on the Themes of The Queen of Spades, it was important to try to convey the brilliance and power of the orchestra of P. Tchaikovsky with just 5 instruments and to give the listener a sense of that magical electrified atmosphere that always fills the performances of The Queen of Spades at the Bolshoi Theatre.
Listening to S. Lysenko’s Fantasia on the Themes of The Queen of Spades, one can sense at once that the work was written by a contemporary composer who is familiar with jazz among other things. It opens with the funeral of the tragically deceased Herman and then, like a flashback in film, the story rewinds back to the beginning. The author insists that the narrative in his Fantasia is given from Herman’s perspective. In the course of the story, Herman, like Batman, jumps from the Summer Garden to the Countess’ bedroom, delves into Tomsky’s story in detail, intensely contemplates the 3 cards theme, meets the Countess’ ghost and repeats her song. And the Fantasia ends with Herman’s challenging his fate standing under the roar of the storm and thunder.
Lysenko, relying on the virtuoso performing technique of the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet, set himself a challenging task of conveying all the brilliance of P. Tchaikovsky’s orchestra with just 5 instruments. And he succeeded to the utmost degree.
I would also like to note that the playing of the Bolshoi Theatre Wind Quintet combines the brilliant virtuosity and heartfelt singing of each instrument with intonation sensitivity and a magnificent sense of musical form and ensemble.
Irina Novichkova, PhD in Art Studies, Senior Researcher, Russian National Museum of Music