The Second International Rachmaninoff Russian Music Festival opens on May 20th with a rarity, a staged performance of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta produced by the Boston Vocal Arts Studio. “Our tightly-knit Russian community is rich in cultural events,” explained BVAS’s Executive Director Olga Lisovskaya, “so it was logical for our Artistic Director Alexander Prokhorov to team up with International Rachmaninoff Russian Music Festival’s titulaire, Irina Shachneva. They have been colleagues and friends for many years and are both living their lives for the music.
“Iolanta is BVAS’s first major production of a full-length (1.5 hours) opera. It’s fully staged and costumed with great soloists. [Details are here.] We’re very fortunate that this project came together, rather magically, I would say, with the Rachmaninoff Festival. We have some wonderful international stars in the cast including the Russian-American Met Opera soprano Dina Kuznetsova in the title role (on May 20th.) Count Vaudémont will be played by Met tenor Adam Klein. He does not have the advantage of Russian as his mother tongue but has benefited enormously from our talented language coaches and will sing like a native. Probably half of our soloists are Russian speakers, though!”
The production of Iolanta will be taking place in Makor Concert Hall, 1845 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. A synagogue that seats about 800 people and has a very large stage, it was built, according to Lisovskaya, “with the intention of making the un-amplified human voice intelligible with both liveness and crispness. It has the required wing-space and dressing rooms for an opera company, though it’s not up to the Metropolitan Opera standard. We can’t fly scenery or make significant scene changes, so we have to be creative in how we use it.” The setting is a castle garden in Mediaeval France, “a simple arrangement that allows the emphasis to remain on the costumes and the passionate story.”
Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest wrote the libretto, which Lisovskaya called “surprisingly good.” Lisovskaya also commissioned an arrangement of the score from Moshe Shulman to allow for fewer winds. The 20-piece orchestra will be seated to the side of the singers but off the stage. There will be supertitles with both English and Russian texts. (The performance is in the original Russian.)
Boston Vocal Arts Studio was founded by Russian emigrés in 2006 and at first did mainly scenes and excerpts except for a full production of Mozart and Salieri by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In 2010 the company began mounting complete one-act operas such as La serva Padrone by Pergolesi, which was reprised several times. Since there are so many opera companies in Boston offering the standard repertoire, BVAS decided to stand out from the beginning by concentrating on Russian operas. “One might have seen a production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin or Snow Maiden in recent years, but since 1970 there have been no more than five Russian operas staged in Boston by local companies. I was in the recent Snow Maiden production by Harvard’s Lowell House, and four of six performances were sold out. So there does seem to be an appetite from the mostly American audience. … Boston Vocal Arts Studio will continue to focus mainly on Russian music as our niche. But certainly you can expect some Ukranian offerings and the occasional rarities like Pergolesi’s La serva Padrone or Mozart and Salieri byNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Our long-term goal,” Lisovskaya stresses, “is to become a folk-opera company like ones that exist in Europe, ones using a company of equals with a few stars.”