Interview with Yuri Isaakovich Alexandrov
DIRECTOR OF TRUE EMOTIONS
Yuri Isaakovich Alexandrov graduated in piano from then Leningrad State Conservatory in 1974, in the class of Professor Umanskaya and in 1977 in musical directing, in the class of Professor Slutskaya. Since 1978 Yury Alexandrov has been working as a theatre director in the Mariinskiy Theatre. His creative work is very diverse, having no canonical comprehension of opera. Alexandrov bravely improvises with classical opera texts. Furthermore, his art is distinguished by the unique aesthetics, originality of thoughts, paradox and unexpected turnover. Metaphor is one of the director Alexandrov main techniques, revealing his inner, spiritual, philosophical and poetic world.
The performances which he has staged at the Mariinskiy Theatre have always been the events in the cultural life of Saint-Petersburg and among them areThe Night Bell and Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti, The Queen of May by Christoph Willibald Gluck, the operas Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mazepa by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the opera Semyon Kotko by Sergei Prokofiev (awarded for it in 1999 with the Russia's highest theatre prize, the Golden Mask). Yuri Alexandrov has staged over two hundred productions at opera houses throughout Russia and abroad and among them are: Donizetti’s Elixir of Love (Riga), Musorgsky‘s Khovanshchina (Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre), Tchaikovsky‘s Cherevichki (La Scala Milan), Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Italy) and The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky (USA). One of the spectacular premieres of Yuri Alexandrov is Puccini‘s opera Turandot, which he staged in 2003 at the Arena di Verona. It was an unprecedented event, as for the first time ever the Arena had invited a Russian director to stage one of the classic Italian operas. Yuri Alexandrov and Valery Gergiev experienced the ovations one more time in August 2005 for staging the opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky, again in Verona.
At the Opera & Theatre Madlenianum he staged Verdi’s La Traviata (premiered on 8 May 2006) and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (premiered on 28 October 2011). With his Chamber Opera of St. Petersburg he was a guest on two occasions, in June 2018 with the Russian operas Not Only Love by R. Shchedrin and Engagement in the Monastery by S. Prokofiev, while in the 2018/2019 season on the occasion of 150 years of the National Theater in Belgrade and 20 years of Madlenianum they had a very notable guest performance with the performances The Pearl Fishers by G. Bizet and Faust by C. Gounod. The Covida-19 pandemic prevented them from coming to our city again this May, but we managed to find, in the busy schedule of their tours and commitments in St. Petersburg, a date for their guest performance in November, when we will again enjoy this exceptional ensemble.
Your first cooperation with Madlenianum was on the occasion of the opera La Traviata, in 2006, how did this collaboration come about?
I’d like to greet all Belgrade people who are our dear and respected audience. We are happy to prepare for the tour. Regardless of the complexity of the current situation, we are very optimistic. The first question was how it all started. The creator of our friendship and cooperation in Serbia is Eduard Ille. We met in St. Petersburg. He is an exceptional and very famous man in Serbia. For years he was organizing many tours and guest performances. He was establishing cultural contacts with numerous countries, including Russia, even during the Soviet Union. We met through mutual acquaintances and started friendship and cooperation. That is why the La Traviata project proposed from Serbia was very interesting to me. Firstly - a new country, and secondly - a completely new and unknown theater to me - Madlenianum. It is a theater whose patron is a woman, the woman not related to opera. I was very curious. When I arrived, I came across an extremely good organization and wonderful young and very talented singers. Because of that I began to love this theater and this city, so I always come back here with pleasure.
In our online season we will have the opportunity to see the opera Pagliacci, which you staged in 2011, you decided on a one-act play, do you think that audience has no time or patience for long opera productions?
The second project in this theater was the staging of Pagliacci. I love that opera very much. It was performed in our theater with great success and we also performed it in many European capitals and throughout Russia. It is a lyrical opera that, above all, speaks of human passions. It is not about conditional relations of queens or princesses, but about living people who are very similar to nowadays ones, who love and feel pain, suffer and cheat on each other. The entire life cycle is shown. That is why, when contemplating on the next project in Serbia, Pagliacci took the first place. I am extremely satisfied with the ensemble. It is a very interesting ensemble where many European artists sang, which I really like. The opera has a lavish set design. Actually, I make all the performances in Serbia with my permanent collaborator, the People's Artist of Russia, the famous painter Vyacheslav Okunev, who I have been cooperating with for 40 years.
What would I say about the performance? It seems to me that they added something to this opera before, but in my opinion, this work is multi-layered and no changes should alter its theme or lower the temperature. In addition, the work is precisely divided into two acts. The first act represents the theater behind the scenes, and the second the theater as it really is. It all merges and makes a tragic finale. It’s the reason I'm sure I did the right thing by directing this opera as a whole. Practice has shown that this performance, wherever performed, fills the audience with emotions and that is why this decision seems good to me. In my creative work, I primarily look for a connection between contemporaneity and the work itself, that is, the time in which it was written. Themes such as love, deception or suffering are eternal, they have not changed over the centuries. Only forms of expression can differ. I am a supporter of the medical approach that reads: do no harm. Namely, my colleagues and I, when younger, often make the mistake of trying to point out ourselves and suppressing the musical dramaturgy that the composer devised. Of course, a modern performance does not mean that performers are supposed to be in jeans or skirts. Historical costumes are certainly possible because contemporary feelings are represented in the performance. So, contemporaneity is reflected in feelings and not in fabrics or decoration. Above all, the performance must be smart. It is much more complicated to stage a historical performance in a contemporary style than in contemporary costumes. If, for example, a lady has a 4-meter crinoline, it is difficult for anyone to approach her, kiss her hand or something like that. If she’s in a skirt - all is much simpler. I would say that contemporary plays were designed by theater managers because they are much cheaper. For the price of one historical costume, you can dress the whole ensemble in so-called contemporary second-hand costumes. However, all these minimizations, activations and other "ations" lead to the fact that in the end you do not know whether they are playing Don Juan, whether it is Wagner or Tchaikovsky. Everything is the same: the same costumes, the same performances, the same diplomacy, the same gold, that is, dollars.
You are known for contemporary staging of the operas, do you apply the same directing in all productions of one opera in different countries?
In my opinion, a director must be unpredictable. The charm is that no one knows what a director will do. There are directors who constantly stage the same performances just on different music. For example, about the Soviet government: generals, prostitutes, builders and, in a word, there is no place for what is called "opera", because opera is a miracle. Even when I direct a contemporary performance with contemporary costumes, I always leave room for that miracle. The audience must feel all the beauty of the opera. In classical theater, there is a unity of place, time and action. However, sometimes a performance should be a holiday and a celebration, and sometimes we should talk about certain problems. The audience accepts that, although they usually come to the theater to relax. In any case, social themes have their place in theater, primarily thanks to German directors who did it ingeniously before. But, in opera this should not be a limitation. Our task is to create a miracle, so that people sigh and say: "We have been waiting for this for a long time!" Such moments are necessary in both avant-garde and classical performances. We shouldn’t forget that this is the essence of opera.
Unfortunately, Corona stopped your arrival and tour in Serbia in May 2020, when can we expect you again, what are you performing for us this time?
We were happy about our performing in Serbia in May, with all there blooming and warm, as we have been freezing this year. That's why we were very sad when the tour was postponed. We were going to perform on two stages: on the stage of the National Theater, with The Rape of Lucretia, an opera that we performed several times in Europe. It is an opera in English, the work of the great English composer Benjamin Britten. I think that stage suits our performance very well, I find it just the way I imagined it. The second performance is in Madlenianum - Mozart's opera The Abduction from Seraglio. Mozart is very complex, all vocal parts are difficult, but the Serbian audience knows how to recognize quality singing and I am sure that we will present ourselves in the best light. The set design for both performances has been done by Vyacheslav Okunev. We will come again with our best singers, although we do not have the "best" because the whole ensemble is great. A guest performance in Serbia has always been a serious challenge for us as I know that the musicians of Serbia and Belgrade are at a very high level. I hope that we will make you happy again with our art and I’m looking forward to our encounter.
Interviewed by Tatijana Rapp
Translation from Russian by Maja Jončić