Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel


Dmitri Shostakovich

This concert was performed in the Adelaide Town Hall as a part of the Musica Viva program. Given the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the Shostakovich programming seemed highly appropriate. More poignant when the brilliant Russian pianist, Konstantin Shamray, gave a short opening speech saying that whereas some of his fellow countrymen were afraid to speak out against Putin, he was not.

Konstantin Shamray

The programming seemed appropriate to me because I associate Shostakovich with quiet, underlying rebellion. In 1934 he wrote an opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Despite early success, Lady Macbeth became the vehicle for a general denunciation of Shostakovich’s music  by the Communist Party in early 1936. After this, much of the music he wrote seems superficially celebratory – supposedly celebrating the great success of the Soviet government, but there is underlying discord. For me, this is the case with Shostakovich’s one piano quintet. The program notes state that this piece ‘lacks the autobiographical references and the touches of irony which can be identified in many of his other pieces’. I disagree. The third movement is a Scherzo – which suggests ‘playful’. But this is not entirely in joyful major chords – every-so-often it is slightly off key.  It is, in fact, one of my favourite pieces of music. The same happens in the energetic finale. It was wonderful to hear this executed by the Australian String Quartet and the fantastic technique of Konstantin Shamray. The program was rounded off with the Third Razumovsky Quartet of Beethoven.

Australian String Quartet

Le Coq d’Or

Composer Rimsky-Korsakov

The opera, The Golden Cockerel, was performed at the Adelaide Festival. The music is by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908). It was directed by Barrie Kosky. How could anyone have known, when programming this opera, of the present situation in Ukraine? Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the opera during the 1905 Russo-Japanese war – it is a political satire about Tsar Nicholas II, who was deposed in 1917 and assassinated in 1918. Tsarist censors forbad performance until 1909, so Rimsky-Korsakov died without witnessing a performance of this work. And further irony – the part of the Tsar on this occasion in Adelaide was sung by Ukrainian Pavlo Hunka and other lead characters, such as the tsarina he falls in love with, are Russian.

The ineffective tsar goes off to war

The music reminded me of Scheherazade, with melodies wafting like those from one thousand and one nights – many beautiful woodwind themes. The libretto was inspired by a Pushkin tale. The main focus is a stupid old tsar, who falls in love with the tsarina of one of the countries he wants to conquer – she makes fun of his bumbling love-making.

The one set was stunning. It reminded me of the Sorrento surf beach – no sea but what seemed like sand dunes with tussock grass, a driftwood-like tree at the top of which perched the silvery golden cockerel who warns the tsar when his country is in danger. I’ve never before seen a performance of this opera, but I expect that the chorus of soldiers is usually outfitted in colourful military uniforms. In this case, the soldiers wore horseheads – all dark grey. There was little colour, and this was effective reminding us of a sombre side as the tsar made his foolish and ultimately abortive attempts to rule. I was surprised that over the two hours (without interval) the set didn’t change. But I guess there was no need for anything more than an oppressive backdrop.

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