History of the theatre
In September 2017 the St. Petersburg Chamber Opera open its 31st season.
The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera was created by director Yuri Alexandrov in 1987, when the public really needed new creative ideas. Despite all the difficulties of the perestroika period, the theater, which was intended to be a creative laboratory, soon took a prominent place in St.-Petersburg musical and drama sphere, winning the reputation of “the living opera” or “the searching theatre.” Over time, the Chamber Theatre grew into The Petersburg Chamber Opera, a professional state theatre well-known both in Russia and abroad.
In the time of crisis and disturbance when the established forms of artistic tradition, classical theaters, suddenly turned out to be inconsistent in the face of the new reality, stage experiments of Yuri Alexandrov were able to capture the essence of the time most fully and accurately.
Yuri Alexandrov is a representative of St. Petersburg (Leningrad) opera directing school founded by V. Meyerhold and developed by professor E. Kaplan who founded the Opera directing department of the Conservatory and trained Alexandrov’s teachers M. Slutskaya and E. Pasynkov.
It is no wonder that the St. Petersburg Chamber Opera became one of the first and the main forms of these “searching theaters”, a ground, where artists were searching for a new art language. Established in the late 1980s, at a turning point for the art, the young theater had not set its artistic limits yet. Unlike the “big theaters” with their existing long-established system, the St. Petersburg Chamber Opera was free of all sorts of rules and the burden of tradition, it did not have to obey the existing aesthetic laws and was prepared to take any tests effortlessly. The theatre itself provided a ground and environment for artistic search and experiment. Alexandrov‘s directing style made it possible to create a new art system that was quite different from the traditional one, to make a new dynamic structure capable of reproducing the modern pace of life, with its nerve rapidity, instantaneous change of ideas and impressions, contradictory consciousness, sudden insights and elusive essence, with its paradoxical contrasts and unexpected convergence of polar opposites.
For many years, the Chamber Opera did not have its own home, but in most cases it was lucky enough to get good venues for the performances including Yusupov Palace, the Hermitage Theatre, Beloselsky-Belozersky mansion and others. Luxurious interiors attracted the audience, and no one could imagine how destitute the talented troupe was and how many efforts Alexandrov had to make to move the stage props and scenery from place to place, to settle tensions with the museum stuff and just to support his artists financially. As they say, you have to be a true talent in order to stay afloat and to develop your own theater.
In 1998, the theatre found its own venue at last. It was the mansion of Baron von Derviz (33, Galernaya St.), a place closely linked to the history of St. Petersburg musical theatre.
On May 27, for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, the theatre presented, for the first time on its own stage, the world premiere of Gaetano Donizetti's opera “Peter I, or The Incredible Adventure of the Russian Tsar” (the original title is “Il falegname di Livonia, o Pietro il grande, czar delle Russie”). After a triumphant success at Teatro Comunale in 1823, only a few performances were held in Italy. Later Donizetti‘s script was lost and the opera was not performed again for two hundred years. For more than three years Yuri Alexandrov was searching in Italy for the score, which seemed impossible to restore. But his hard work yielded results. Today this work by Donizetti is performed only by the artists of The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera.
For 30 years now The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera has kept the tradition of Russian repertory public theatre. The theatre was originally formed as a single artistic entity with a unique repertoire. It covers a wide range of music genres created in different countries over the centuries: from the medieval pastoral “The Game of Robin and Marion” to the works of contemporary Russian and foreign authors, like “White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky” written by modern Moscow composer Yuri Butsko.
Many of the performances, including “Peter I, or The Incredible Adventure of the Russian Tsar” by Donizetti, “Russian three, seven, ace ...” (stage fantasy by Yuri Alexandrov based on Russian pieces inspired the works of Gogol), “Gamblers – 1942”, “Antiformal Rayok” by Shostakovich, “White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky” by Butsko, “From Jewish Folk Poetry” by Shostakovich, “There and Back Again” by Hindemith can be seen in The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera only. In the period between 2000 and 2012 the theatre staged diverse works including operetta “La belle Hélène” by Offenbach, “Gianni Schicchi”, “Tosca”, “Cio Cio San” and “Suor Angelica” by Puccini, “Lucia di Lammermoor” by Donizetti and “Boris Godunov”, musical folk drama by Mussorgsky.
Each production becomes a bright artistic event in musical and theatrical life of the city, highly appreciated by both critics and the audience, giving rise to debates on contemporary theatre issues.
The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera performances are annually nominated to most prestigious Russian awards, The Golden Mask and The Golden Spotlight. These include “Boris Godunov” by Mussorgsky (1996), “Rigoletto” by Verdi (1998), “Don Giovanni” by Mozart (2009). The Golden Mask was awarded to “Gamblers – 1942” by Shostakovich 1997),”Cornet Christoph Rilke's song of love and death” by Mattus (1998), “The Queen of Spades” by Tchaikovsky (2000) and “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo (2010). “La traviata” by Verdi (2005), “Cio Cio San” by Puccini (2006), “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo (2010), “White Nights by Fyodor Dostoevsky” by Butsko (2011), “Betrothal in a Monastery” by Prokofiev (2012), “Die Fledermaus” by Strauss (2013), “Not Only Love” by Shchedrin (2014) were awarded with the highest St. Petersburg drama prizeThe Golden Spotlight in the categories Best musical theatre director, Best musical theatre actor and Best musical theatre actress.
Yuri Alexandrov constantly follows the modern operatic drama, considering it necessary for the theatre’s full artistic development. Over the years, he has staged the operas “I believe” by Piguzov, “The Fifth Journey of Christopher Columbus” and “Spotted Dog Running at the Edge of the Sea” by Smelkov, “White Rose” by Zimmerman, “Cornet Christoph Rilke's song of love and death” by Mattus. His creative approach to the musical content allows the director to incorporate an opera performance in the modern context.
In February 2012, in the 25th anniversary season, “Betrothal in a Monastery” by Prokofiev was staged. At the beginning of the 26th season the premiere of The Great Music of the XX century made a new theatre sensation. It is a programme of one-act operas that included the cycle “From Jewish Folk Poetry” by Shostakovich and “There and Back Again”, a sketch opera by Hindemith, both of which had never been staged in Russia before. In 2013, a premiere of the brilliant “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss was held. In 2014, a landmark event for the theatre was the premiere of “Not Only Love” by Rodion Shchedrin, which won The Golden Spotlight as the Best opera production of the season.
The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera company consists of young artists, both graduates of the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory and young talents discovered by Yuri Alexandrov throughout Russia.
Alexandrov’s theatre is often seen as a director-dominated one. But Alexandrov himself says: “My theatre is for actors”. Known for his remarkable drama skills, the director works with vocalists with passion and enthusiasm, helping them to realize their potential in full. His rehearsals are always an exciting game, but behind it there is always a clearly thought-out concept and a lot of research work. The director always relies on the actor’s personality. Many of well-known St.-Petersburg learnt with Yuri Alexandrov in the Chamber Theatre. These are, to mention just a few, Vladimir Galuzin Sergei Lyadov, Galina Sidorenko, Edem Umerov, Evgeny Ulanov, Venera Gimadieva, Anna Nechaeva, Dmitry Golovnin and Alexey Pashiev.