Midsummer Vilnius 2019 Review: Asmik Grigorian in concert

Asmik Grigorian Gives A Remarkable Lesson In Originality

By Polina Lyapustina

Asmik Grigorian started her summer festival season with a marvelous homecoming event in Vilnius.

To say that this concert was long-awaited is a massive understatement. It would be sold out twice even if she had another recital days or weeks early — Asmik Grigorian is an absolute favorite of the local audience. But this concert happened after a long pause filled with numerous notable events, as the soprano made her La Scala debut and appeared at The International Opera Awards.


More than 2,500 people gathered in an inner yard of Palace of Grand Dukes in the very heart of Vilnius. I wondered if this venue has ever faced so many people — usually, it accommodates up to 1,500 visitors, so hundreds were happy to get standing places. Ultimately however, there were many others who never got a ticket and wound up missing the performance altogether.

The program was revealed in advance, and people were discussing it avidly. The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of Modestas Pitrenas, opened the concert with three pieces of “Slavic dance” by Antonín Dvořák— quite an enthusiastic start. Maestro Pitrenas gave a rich and very flexible reading of Dvořák’s orchestral masterpiece, with stirring rhythms blended together with hints of tension in his interpretation, which never lacked lightness or agility of the initial piano pieces.

Asmik Grigorian began with another work by the Czech composer — his famous “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka.” From the first notes, she brought bold and robust bottom sounds to her interpretation. That delivered an impressive physical sensation to the audience, which soprano furthered with the incredibly powerful legato closing on remarkable B5 at the end of the aria.

Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” was completely different. If I had not witnessed it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that the same soprano sang it. Full of anxious indecision, she didn’t lower her voice for a second, instead moving through passionate impulses, timidity, desperate determination and, finally, a wondrous declaration of love. Аs opposed to incredibly balanced “The Song to the Moon,” “The Letter Scene” felt very unstable, and you could expect the heroine to lose her voice and collapse at any moment. This physical tension from Grigorian was always visceral.

Typical Puccini, In Unexpected Ways

After “La tregenda” from “Le Villi,” it was time for three Puccini heroines. Though the first part was quite diversе, I couldn’t expect any surprises from Puccini. Fortunately, I was wrong. Grigorian performed Mimì, Manon, and Cio Cio San in a very unusual manner, though I would say that this is her signature way. Her interpretations were very personal, but at the same time seemed more complex, deeply immersed in a social context of their stories.

When Asmik Grigorian started to sing an aria from “La Bohème,” my first thought was that she had simply outgrown this role. But then I found her singing so movingly that I didn’t have any doubts that it was the Mimì that a genius wrote — more sensitive, real, doomed, and less romantic. It was extremely convincing for those times and circumstances, not a sad fairy tale.

Her choice for Manon was “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” from the last act. Her powerful high legato struck the audience to the very core once again. But behind the perfect technique, I could somehow feel the difference — external perspective, self-examination, reason, and acceptance – all layers that I rarely see in a performance.

Maestro Pitrenas gave us a short break while the orchestra was playing an Intermezzo from “Madama Butterfly.” The public definitely needed to reset after the last aria. Then it was time for the Butterfly’s most famous aria and one of the most popular pieces in the soprano repertoire — “Un bel dì vedremo.” And again, hard truth was fused with tenderness and naive hope. Grigorian’s soprano sounded light and incorporeal as if forgetting her ability to bring a truly robust sound. It was so real, so credible.

The takeaway was that Grigorian hadn’t outgrown Puccini, but had simply found a way to delve deeper into his music. Using an experience of other female heroines, she showed a deep understanding of characters and pushed the boundaries of the roles, showing not just an inner perspective but being a narrator in some ways. Reasonably, it might ruin the performance of a particular opera, but it definitely won in a recital.

On that night, Asmik Grigorian shared her love and passion with her beloved public, but moreover, she proved something perhaps more significant — with her decisions and her approach, that she is not just a great voice. She is one of a kind: an extraordinary combination of respect for traditions with her own unique vision of opera.


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