The beautiful ensemble of the Russian Orchestra Bolshoi

In Russian, the word ‘Bolshoi’ means ‘Big’, and last weekend’s performances by the soloists and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia at ROHM fulfilled that concept in every dimension. In front of the velvet curtain hiding the set for their opera performance of “Kai and Gerda”, the seventy seven musicians squeezed on stage at the Royal Opera House Muscat to perform a Gala concert under their young energetic conductor, Philipp Chizhevsky. The first half was purely Russian while the second explored the great Europeans of Italy, France and Spain.
The programme began with a rip through the famous and much loved Overture from Glinka’s ‘Ruslan and Lyudmila’, taken at quite a pace by the dapper Maestro Chizhevsky, whose conducting strokes were clear and animated. Immediately the warm, expressive quality of the Bolshoi’s Cello section and the strong steady ensemble playing of the Brass became apparent. The first soloist of the evening was Bolshoi Bass, Denis Makarov, who performed, ‘Tolko Mne Dozhdatsya Chesti’ (If only I had the Honour) from Borodin’s ‘Prince Igor’, demonstrating his rich lyrical voice. He filled the auditorium with his expansive, round timbre across his considerable range. Calls of Bravo broke out at the end of the aria from the silence in the auditorium.
Anna Nechaeva, Soprano, slipped on stage for, ‘Long Ago the Clouds to Thunder Did Say’ from Rimsky-Korsakov’s, ‘Snow Maiden’. She performed the challenging Aria Secco with a delightful clarinet obligato from Sergei Vlasov, her gorgeous, bewitching tone quality and superb placing a pleasure to listen to. It was a hard act to follow for twenty-eight year old Khakassian Soprano, Svetlana Lachina. Korsakov’s ‘Romance’, featured an exotic, modal Oboe line from Alexander Krylov. The unaccompanied recitativo, communicated beautifully by Ms Lachina led seamlessly to the lyrical melody of, ‘Enslaved by the Rose, the Nightingale’, concluding with a short wordless cadenza.
The familiar and popular ‘Polonaise’ from Tchaikovsky’s, ‘Eugene Onegin’ provided an instrumental break in the programme and a tour de force for the orchestra. Lovely lower string phrases were followed by some rhythmically precise, syncopated brass ensemble playing.
The following duet from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Queen of Spades’ was one of the highlights of the evening. ‘Already, Shades of Night’ was performed by Soprano, Anna Nechaeva and Mezzo, Yulia Mazurova appearing in terracotta red, hot-foot from her performance as Snow Queen the night before. The Aria unusually featured a piano introduction (Olga Solokova) with flutes to their breath-taking, intimate performance of close, subtle harmonies in impossibly beautiful ensemble. From the same opera, ‘What is our Life? A Game!’ introduced the prolific and widely acclaimed Tenor, Oleg Dolgov in a tender interpretation with poignant interjections from the woodwind.
One expects no less than rich romantic harmonies with lush orchestration from Rachmaninov, and his, ‘The Entire Encampment Sleeps’ from ‘Aleko’ did not disappoint. Azerbaijani Baritone Elchin Azizov fulfilled the demands with Mussorgsky-like breadth and power. His performance was measured and well paced in the beginning, melting into the sublime Aria with poignant dynamic control, as if from the heart. A touching duet from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Iolanta’, ‘Your Silence is Incomprehensible’ concluded Part One with the pairing of Oleg Dolgov and Yulia Mazurova. They formed a dramatic ensemble, visually and aurally, augmented by Tchaikovsky’s full, lavish orchestration in a fitting Finale.
Part Two, the European tour, opened with the Overture to ‘L’Italiana in Algeri’ with brilliant timing in Rossini’s humorous score. Oboe player Alexander Krylov secured the cheeky theme superbly, with fine attention to dynamics from the woodwind section, and then it was a romp through to the end. Denis Makarov’s precise delivery of the comedic patter song, “La Calunnia è un Venticello” from ‘Barber of Seville’ ensured a carefully enunciated confidence from ‘sotto voce’ to broad sweeps of sound, telling a well kept secret!
The absolute highlight of the evening must have been the performance of “Flower Song”, the famous duet between Lakmé and her companion Mallika from Act One of Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’ performed by Anna Nechaeva and Yulia Mazurova to pin-drop silence. It was exquisite beyond words and the audience’ response reflected this.
An atmospheric dark orchestral opening to the dramatic extract, “Tace La Notte /Qual Voce! …ah, dalle Tenebre” from ‘Il Trovatore’, heard Denis Makarov’s powerful bass ‘aria secco’ with harp, echoed by Oleg Dolgov’s jealous response from off-stage. Ms Markova’s peace-making gestures reflected some fine dramatic characterisation as well as lovely singing in this beautiful Trio ensemble.
Manuel de Falla’s “Danza Ritual del Fuego” from ‘El Amor Brujo’ (Love the magician) is as familiar as it is consummate of Spanish Nationalism in music. With percussive piano (Olga Solokova) and haunting Cor Anglais solo (Igor Chemerichenko), Philipp Chizhevsky drew out the highly rhythmic Iberian qualities of the score from the whole ensemble, especially upper brass section. It set the scene brilliantly for Ruperto Chapì’s Zarzuela, “El Pensar” from ‘Las Hijas del Zebedeo’ performed seductively by the gypsy who won everyone’s heart on Friday, Mezzo Yulia Makarova. Maestro Placido Domingo has instilled a love of Zarzuela in Oman thanks to his performances at the ROHM and he would have been gratified to see Ms Makarova’s flirtatious delivery in her rich, passionate mezzo timbre which made her compelling to watch as well as hear.
A fine way to round off a recital of operatic favourites is with the iconic show-stealer from Puccini’s, ‘Turandot’, ‘Nessun Dorma’, if it is sung well. Oleg Dolgov’s execution was superb, ending with a sustained climactic top note over full brass and orchestral tutti, making the Finale loud and clear. There was no encore, even though the whole house was on its feet for a real standing ovation. This should be respected as the Bolshoi performed a beautifully balanced programme to perfection – and so one must await their next visit with baited breath – and hope it comes soon.