Thursday, 11 June 2009

Lyublyu tebya, Porgy

It’s Russian National Day today, and I’d like to say that my excuse for not going with the diplo-mate to have another nose around the Ambassador's Residence and its fine paintings tonight is because 'National Day' comes too close to the current Russian nationalism for comfort (though every nation has one). That isn’t the reason, but enough. I merely thought it was a good excuse to go back to a time when the Soviet cultural scene was rather international, what with the Khrushchev thaw and all.

This diversion was kicked off by the NYT obit of Boris Pokrovsky I linked to below telling us about his Porgy and Bess ‘which he staged in 1961 in a bootleg production in a Moscow basement, with a cast of drama students’. It wasn’t that daring, because Russian Porgimania had already kicked off in 1956 when an American company toured the Soviet Union. Truman Capote captured the strangeness of the tour brilliantly in The Muses Are Heard, one of his first major pieces of journalism. Hell, that's what I should have called this blog.

Incidentally, I haven't yet seen Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote - looked rather mannered in the trailer, but wasn't TC too? - but Toby Jones does an amazing job in the 'other' Truman film which appeared around the same time, Infamous.

My Porgy i Bess score is one of many I snapped up when Leningrad had just become St Petersburg again and second-hand printed music was very, very cheap. It dates from 1965 (isn't the period jacket a giveaway?). For any curious Russian speakers, ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’’ is ‘Ya bogat lish nuzhdoyu’; ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ becomes ‘Prostite mne derzost moyu’ (‘Forgive my cheek’) and actually ‘I loves you, Porgy’ is simply ‘O, moy lyubimy’ rather than the non-fitting title I couldn’t resist using above. Wonder if it’s ‘Porgy, amore’ in Italian?

While leafing through the vocal scores I bought back in the early 1990s, I couldn’t resist snapping two beautiful 19th century frontispieces – the one for Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride

and the three featured cards (‘troika, semyorkha, tuz’, inscribed around the border) capped by the Queen of Spades for Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama.

Crikey, I’m unimpressed by most of the Cardiff singers I’ve seen - which is by no means all - since Shcherbachenko. Serves me right for passing on the Russians tonight (AND missing out on Salonen's Mahler 7 at the RFH - how did that happen?). Is it unfair to say that, as in the world of the opera house, 80 per cent or more in this competition smacks of routine? Again, the winner of the round we saw on BBC4 was the obvious choice, Czech bass Jan Martinik. As voice-coach commentator Mary King rightly said, it was good that he used his rather light, baritonish young voice to draw us in rather than attempting to grab us by the throats. But who can forget 2007 winner Shen Yang in a much more spectacularly moving Aleko aria? That really did bring tears to the eyes.

Dreigroschenoper is being performed at the Barbican on Saturday night. I'd have gone for H K Gruber and the band, but...Ian Bostridge is Macheath. Ian Bostridge? Can you imagine a bigger mismatch? Emma Kirkby as Salome? Nein, danke.


Jason said...

I thought Infamous was vastly superior to the Seymour Hoffman Capote.

Love 'The Muses are Heard'. And the cyrillic scripts...

Weillman said...

I read somewhere that Bostridge's reasoning was to present a competely different view of Macheath. Not having heard the performance, I can't say whether he succeeded or not.

David said...

It's a tricky one - Harald Paulsen, the original Mackie, was an operetta singer; I tend to think of heftier sounds in 'Und wovon lebt der Mensch'. Well, let's see what others thought.

And la belle Shcherbachenko has just won Cardiff, 'ura'! Will write that up soon.