Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky were composers I fell in love with as a teenager. All that tumultuous emotion, rich, ever changing harmonies and deep flowing melodies. Ahh I thought, if only I could wander around St Petersburg and absorb what it means to be Russian. The Nationalism, the battle of the soul, the connection with the land and folklore.
Well, last week I learnt a different side of that culture when I stage managed the opera Khohvanchina for the BBC Proms. Composed by Mussorgsky, who died before he completed it, Shostakovich and Stravinsky took on the task of making it stage worthy.
Oh what a story!!! It’s almost to grotesque to write about. Please skip the next paragraph if horror isn’t your thing.
It all kicks off with soldiers talking about killing the child heir to the throne in graphic details, a rape scene quickly follows and then four hours of political intrigue in which there is no good or evil and no silver lining begins. At the end there is a death scene where the lovers are burnt alive.
Following the score in rehearsals was almost painful because of the intensity of the story marring against the cheerfulness of the tunes. I am certainly going to look at Swan Lake in a new light.
So, art isn’t always beautiful sometimes it is ugly. And sometimes it turns out it can be both.