March 29, 2014

THE TURN OF THE SCREW IN RUSSIA

 

The year of 2014 has been declared the UK-Russia Year of Culture. In this context, it would be appropriate to remember an event of 30 years ago involving central figures of that event, so much significant for the Russian culture, whose centenaries stand only a few months apart – Benjamin Britten and  Svyatoslav Richter The above mentioned event is the first production of Britten’s Turn of the Screw in Russia in 1984. The significance of that event is not only that it was the first production of the opera in Russia , but also (no less important) that Sv. Richter posed as an artistic stage producer as well as musical director. This was his first and only experience to do so.

Britten’s famous opera will soon be produced at the Novaya Opera theater in Moscow.  Noteworthy is that it was produced earlier in Ekaterinburg (2000) by Ilya Mozhaisky and his production was awarded the Golden Masque. In Ekaterinburg they also sang in the Russian language. Next the Turn of the Screw was produced in St. Petersburg; still later the opera was sung as a concert performance in Novosibirsk .

What we deeply regret is that none of those who now write about the Turn of the Screw in Russia, mention that the opera was first produced in Russia as far back as 1984. It was performed in Moscow at December Nights music festival, and a few weeks later in 1985 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and in Kiev.

Thirty years have passed since then. The times have changed drastically. In those far off times, operas by Western composers were sung in Russian. True, there was an ardent discussion between those who were pro and contra singing in the original language. While producing his Turn of the Screw,  Sv. Richter ignored the discussion because he was convinced – the audience must understand what happens on the stage. He wanted that the spectator should be struck with horror. To that end, the spectator must be fully aware of the plot development, exactly what the characters are singing about. And Richter attained his aim.

I remember one incident at a rehearsal: In his desire to evoke a feeling of horror, Richter plastered himself flat like a lizard against the wall and altered his facial expression beyond recognition. It happened suddenly, and his action was so lifelike and believable that that the young boy performing the role of Miles burst into tears of fear!

Film documentation of Richter’s Turn of the Screw was destroyed “by chance”: the Ministry of Culture of those times were skeptic of Richter’s idea to produce an opera where ambiguous characters pursue ambiguous aims.

I would like to relate another interesting incident: Sv. Richter invited Boris Pokrovsky to one of the final rehearsals in order to hear opinion and advice of this highest authority in the art of operatic production. As the rehearsal ended, Richer turned to Boris Pokrovsky:

– Well, what do you think of it all? 

Pokrovsky answered:

– Splendid! In my opinion you may change your profession to start producing operas! Richter's response followed without delay:

        Why! Am I to understand that my piano playing has become bad?"

The Great Richter did love a good joke.

The opera was a tremendous success with the public.

As I describe these events of "Auld Lang Syne", I think it necessary to note another fact, very important for the Moscow Mozart Society: the main role in Richter’s production was performed by our President, Mrs. Galina Pisarenko. She acted as Governess and appeared in 15 out of the 16 scenes of the opera.

Publication of the opera with the Russian text underlay is now in negotiation. This will commemorate Richter’s glorious deed in the Russian world of opera.

The expected first publication of Britten's opera in this UK-Russia Year of Culture, will become a Mozart Society tribute to the two geniuses of music – Benjamin Britten and Svyatoslav Richter – for their centenaries.

Britten and Richter were good friends.

Alexander Rosinkin