Many opera companies are doing Verdi tributes this year, among them, Commonwealth Lyric Theater. But CLT’s Opera Gala is something different—the 200th Anniversary celebration of three composers, including two who are unfamiliar to Western audiences. Sometimes generalists and other times Slavophiles, CLT will be celebrating Verdi alongside two of his confreres who were also born in 1813—the Russian Alexander Dargomyzhsky and the Ukranian Semyon Hulak-Artemovsky—on Sunday, November 3rd, at 5PM at Center Makor, 1845 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton. And the festivities will be quite gala, as delivered by a cast and crew of leading singers. BMInt has had good things to say about CLT productions, most recently here. CLT’s Olga Lisovskaya responded to our questions by email.
BMInt: We know nothing of the unpronounceable Dargomyzhsky and Hulak-Artemovsky. Please enlighten us.
Olga Lisovskaya: Alexander Dargomyzhsky is considered to be the father of Russian bel canto, striving to establish the unique Russian style. His music influenced Tchaikovsky and then all of “The Five” (Mily Balakirev César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin.
Hulak-Artemovsky was a talented singer, a bass-baritone. He was discovered by Glinka and invited to continue his voice studies in St. Petersburg. Dargomyzhsky and his friends organized a fundraising concert for the young Hulak-Artemovsky to pay for his studies in Italy, where he learned the Italian bel canto technique and sang as a soloist. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he became the soloist of the Imperial Opera House and sang the lead roles for 22 years. While there, Hulak-Artemovsky composed the opera which made him very popular, Zaporozhets za Dunayem (The Cossack behind the Danube), which is considered the first Ukrainian opera, presenting Ukrainian melodies in a bel canto style
So what is this opera about? And tell us more how it fits into the gala.
Yes, indeed. We are very fortunate to have world class soloists come to sing with us. I believe, that one of the reasons that they agreed to sing with our young company was our unusual repertoire. Adam Klein, an American tenor, who appears courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera, was very excited about learning an aria in Ukrainian. He will sing a gorgeous Andriy’s aria with chorus. Commonwealth Lyric Theater’s chorus and orchestra members are all very affected by this music, constantly saying how melodious it is.
Zaporozhets za Dunayem is a light and witty comedy about the life of the Ukrainian people, who were forced to leave their Motherland and to move to Turkey. One of the main characters is a bass, Karas. We did not know how we would be able to find a singer, who is a true bass, who has comic timing, and who can sing in Ukrainian. By chance, Adam Klein was working with another American singer at the Met, who just “happened” to have 3 scores of this opera! When we approached him about singing the selections from the opera, Stefan Szkafarowsky was also glad to join our company. Turns out, Stefan Szkafarowksy is of Ukrainian descent. He will sing Karas’ aria and a comic duet with another Ukrainian singer, Oksana Krovytska, whom New Yorkers know well, because she has been singing leads at the [lamentably lost] New York City Opera for 10 years; she also won the prestigious NY City Opera’s “Diva Award”.
What about the Dargomyzhsky selections?
Our conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya, chose to open the concert with the overture from Dargomyzhsky’s opera Rusalka. Americans are more familiar with Dvorak’s opera of the same name, in the US. The Rusalka we will present is based on an unfinished poem by Pushkin and contains some wonderful melodies.
Commonwealth Lyric Theater’s Artistic Director, Alexander Prokhorov, will be singing the miller’s aria from this opera—an excellent example of Russian bel canto.
We are also including an aria from Dargomyzhsky’s Stone Guest, a version of the Don Juan story. We are including a short arioso sung by the character Laura, but this aria is not typical of the opera as a whole. The work is through-composed, with no divisions into separate arias or duets and was written with no key signatures at any point in the opera, in an experiment ahead of its time to move away from strict ties to a particular tonality.
And which selections by Verdi?
We have selections from La Traviata, Aida, La Forza del Destino, Il Trovatore, Falstaff. Our extended excerpt from Rigoletto includes an entire scene: Rigoletto’s aria “Cortigiani”, followed by Rigoletto/Gilda duet “Tutte le feste al tempio”. I am very excited to sing Gilda’s part opposite Gabriel Manro, who is flying in from California.
I see that there are children are also involved in this production? Are you worried about being upstaged?
Our company has a number of unique aspects: we focus on Slavic repertoire; we have a dance troupe, which the Boston audiences saw in our production of Rachmaninoff’s Aleko; miraculously, we get the best singers to work with us; finally, we have the “Lucky Ten” Young Talent Studio join us for certain productions. “Lucky Ten” has children from ages 4 to 18. Alexander Prokhorov is also the Artistic director of “Lucky Ten”, together with Anna Kravets, an award-winning choreographer. The studio produces its own operas as well: fully staged, costumed, with a live orchestra (albeit a small one). This is a great way to introduce the younger generations to the art of opera and classical music. Some of the children are very serious about their vocal studies. Thus, in the Opera Gala, you will hear a few of their soloists: Jean Furman, who is 15, will sing Oscar’s aria from Un ballo in maschera, and Clark Rubinshtein, an 11-year-old, will do a little solo. By the way, Clark is going to do a recital at Jordan Hall this January, with a few guest artists. And I’m delighted to share the stage with very well-behaved children.