MusicAeterna 2020 Review: Fragments Part I — Traviata

A Promise of Youth to All the Aged Masterpieces

By Polina Lyapustina

I’ll be honest. I frankly turned my back to classical productions being streamed lately, and listened to some exceptional pieces just to keep abreast with what’s happening in the industry.

Sometimes, they were beautiful voices. Sometimes it was about an unusual approach. Or maybe another would have a special not-to-miss status. But there were always entire layers of problems — the industry tried but couldn’t find the right way to take advantage of the online space. Bad, better, or really decent productions — none of them could be compared to the real live opera experience. 

So absolutely nothing could satisfy deeply, excite, or move me to tears. I don’t know if I am in the majority, but I would venture to guess that I am not alone. And sadly, it seemed like opera producers accepted this state of affairs. “It will end one day, let’s just wait,” seemed to be their message. 

And I accepted it too, shifting my focus to smaller opera companies, trying to show up for some unusual solutions — bad times make them evolve, so they at least appeared flexible and lively.

But what if not all of us see what is happening in the shadows. Or perhaps, some people are not just giving up on the prevailing circumstances to stop creativity?

It’s likely that not everyone has such privilege, and yet, what if?

Regaining the Music

My friend, an Italian musician, recently said that Russian sadness, however, is never a form of melancholy, but an aspect of the strength to resist and fight against adversity. And I guess, Teodor Currentzis adopted this quality over the years at the conservatory in Saint-Petersburg and later working in Perm.

Last Friday, the maestro came to his audience presenting a new project called “Fragments.” In short videos available for streaming literally everywhere, the musician plans to project his vision on some (famous) operatic pieces, which have been processed in the millstones of opera productions over the years and therefore lost their authentic brightness and radiance. 

“We aim to restore the wasted beauty, the abundance of flavours and colours that have been sacrificed on the altar of the mainstream and the music industry.”

Currentzis started with Act three of “La Traviata,” and this, I believe is a Manifesto. “La Traviata” needs to be reapproached like no other opera. If you love “Traviata” — watch it and rejoice. If you hate it — drop everything and take a look at this, now.

Currentzis’ vision not only delivers a beautiful sound, but reveals the true feelings which were buried under brands, names, and dresses for years. It reminds us of why “La Traviata” is a true masterpiece. 

Filmed in dark tones, the video does not distract you from the sound but guides you through the story. The air on stage is not transparent and makes the subtlest sounds of strings tangible, as Currentzis embraces them with his finger, conducting without a baton. 

The chamber acoustics play with echoes, making the silence amplify every sound. The sunbeam glides in the dark when the voice appears — so clean and light upon its arrival at the sixth minute. It doesn’t sound like an opera, it sounds like something sacred. 

And this understanding – no this feeling – breaks down all prejudices about this opera to me. How many times have we read a libretto or synopsis of the third act and been reminded of how Violeta has found her spiritual comfort in religion. But no matter how talented the sopranos taking this role were, I could never feel this depth in their singing behind Violeta’s deadly sorrow. 



Never Been Heard This Way Before

Nadezhda Pavlova brings a stunning interpretation of the role. Her fine singing paints incredibly sensual pictures in chamber acoustics. What can the voice create for such a piece as “Traviata” when there’s no need to travel over the whole auditorium? Was the third act of Traviata simply created to be this piercingly quiet? In Pavlova’s beautiful singing, transcendent love and tenderness, coming through time and space. “Addio del Passato” has never been heard this way before.

Yulia Sayfulmulyukova and Viktor Shapovalov, as Annina and Dottore Grenvil, are both irresistible too. Their singing cannot be rated, with the support of orchestra, silence, and light, these are heavenly voices.

The whole performance feels like you’re playing with your fingers in the air, or watch the blinding white sky through it. You feel so much, try to catch it all, but eventually get so little — only smells, the only warmness of sun. But do you need any more?

Fortunately, you can play this Fragment all over again as much as you want. I played it numerous times in a single day. And now, I can only wait and wonder, what’s next?

I usually put the most powerful messages in my conclusions, but today, I only say want to say that Currentzis and musicAeterna have done almost the impossible — they lived out the period of anxiety, inefficiency, repetitions, and weird approaches as if it didn’t concern them. And, in contrast, they effortlessly brought us the music they wanted. I simply haven’t heard anything better this year.


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