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Moscow Times
November 6, 2009
New Bolshoi Brings New Premieres, Hope
By Raymond Stults

Considering the delays and cost overruns that plague the reconstruction of its main theater and the artistic crisis brought on by the departure of its musical director and chief conductor Alexander Vedernikov, the Bolshoi Theater’s management would probably have preferred not to hold this year’s press conference for the coming season.

But hold it they did, and following what seemed a carefully prepared script, those in charge quite successfully deflected attention from the theater’s woes with a pair of surprise announcements: first, the appointment of composer Leonid Desyatnikov as the theater’s artistic director; and second, the unprecedented unveiling of plans for new productions not only in the season immediately ahead, but also in the two seasons to follow, during the latter of which, in October 2011, the Bolshoi now expects to reoccupy its principal premises.

Desyatnikov, best known in Moscow for his opera “The Children of Rosenthal,” which survived scandal to emerge triumphant at its Bolshoi world premiere in 2005, described his duties as “consulting, therapy and supervision.” Open to question is whether the Bolshoi’s highly bureaucratic management and its temperamental artistic troupes will allow him to carry out those duties in any meaningful way. If they do, his presence at the Bolshoi ought to give a much-needed boost to the quality of musical performance.

On Friday, the Bolshoi presents the first of this season’s premieres, the revival of a ballet known almost everywhere in the world except Russia as “La Fille Mal Gardee,” with choreography by Alexander Gorsky, the theater’s ballet master for the first quarter of the 20th century, as adapted by an even longer-serving successor to the same post, Yury Grigorovich. Taking the stage in place of the Bolshoi’s own ballet troupe will be young dancers from the Moscow State Choreographic Academy.

The last days of December will see a return to the Bolshoi, following an absence of 75 years, of another ballet classic, Cesare Pugni’s “Esmeralda,” which takes its story from Victor Hugo’s novel “Notre Dame de Paris.” In reviving “Esmeralda,” the theater has chosen to re-create a version choreographed toward the end of the 19th century by legendary Mariinsky Theater ballet master Marius Petipa.

The season’s third new ballet production, also a revival and scheduled for April, is Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” in a choreographic setting by Grigorovich that first appeared in 1979. No doubt the Bolshoi needs a “Romeo and Juliet” in its repertoire. But why the Grigorovich version, one of the master’s least inspired creations, when the theater might instead bring out of storage either or both of two worthier productions that it has staged over the past 14 years: the version of the ballet’s 1940 world premiere, choreographed by Leonid Lavrovsky, which the theater restored at vast expense soon after Grigorovich’s departure in 1995; and the stunning post-modern version that premiered in 2003, which sadly disappeared following its savage treatment the next year in London at the hands of Britain’s notoriously conservative ballet critics?

On the schedule for June and July, respectively, are two one-act ballets of 20th-century origin, French choreographer Roland Petit’s widely performed “The Young Man and Death,” dating from 1946, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” in a reconstitution of the Bolshoi’s original production of 1921.

From the theater’s vocal wing this season will come new productions of both an opera and an operetta. The opera, which premieres on Nov. 24, is Austrian composer Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck,” one of the undisputed operatic masterpieces of the 20th century. Direction of its harrowing tale of a mentally unstable soldier driven to murdering his wife has been entrusted to Dmitry Chernyakov, whose staging of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” in 2006 was the Bolshoi’s last opera production of real merit. Conducting “Wozzeck,” in his Bolshoi debut, will be Greek-born maestro Teodor Curentzis.

The operetta, due in March, is Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Die Fledermaus,” a rather peculiar choice, considering that four versions already exist on the Moscow stage. Granted, none of those four comes very close to capturing the authentic sound and spirit of Viennese operetta. But will the Bolshoi come any closer? Probably not, unless it imports most of the cast from abroad.

Apart from “Wozzeck,” the current Bolshoi season looks to be rather unexciting. The next two, however, seem a great deal more ambitious and almost appear to have been concocted by a different hand.

“La Fille Mal Gardee” (Tshchetnaya Predostorozhnost) plays Nov. 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 8 at noon. Bolshoi Theater, 1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad. Metro Teatralnaya. Tel. 250-7317. Bolshoi.ru.

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