Yuri Alexandrov has always been good at staging playful, comic operas and this one was no exception. Alexandrov shows us no 18th century Seville, no crinolines or wigs, at least, at first. Instead, the action begins in a drama school where the students are busy preparing their graduation performance, the immortal “Duenna” by Sheridan which Prokofiev’s opera is based on.
The second act is based on the visual contrast: the stage is still deep black and there are still very few decorations, but bright, garish, parrot-like costumes of the soloists flash like fireworks shoots. The costumes are deliberately theatrical, only vaguely resembling those of the 18th century when the play is set. The game, not the real story goes on and culminates when Duenna and Mendoza hand the drama students their diplomas: they have passed their final exam! Thus, the director adheres to his principles until the end, telling the purely theatrical story which, according to his idea, contains not a single bit of truth, but providing the audience with a mirror where they can take a close look to find something about themselves.
This sparkling performance by the St.-Petersburg troupe can be with no exaggeration described as comic extravaganza. The play has been staged with great skill.
Alexandrov’s theatre has never been famous for its vocal achievements. The audience came there for the director's challenging approaches and new titles, unheard of in Russian opera practice. However, refuting this cliché, the Moscow “Duenna” was sung very well. Bright distinctive tenor of Vsevolod Kalmykov suited the role of Don Jerome perfectly, while textured, although a bit “uneven” bass of Nicholay Michalski was fitting for the role of the terrific Mendoza. Instead of appearing as a refined romantic tenor who is always in love, strong-voiced Sergey Aleshchenko presented a visualization of the Bluebeard King, Henry VIII as portrayed on the late English Renaissance canvases, especially as the singer’s got the right texture. He comically contrasts with the second romantic in the story, Don Ferdinand, played by the small and nimble, Oriental-looking baritone Dmitri Udi.
The ladies were also quite convincing: twittering soprano of Eugenia Kravchenko (Louisa), rich mezzo of Larissa Pominova (Clara) and expressive contralto of Elena Eremeyeva (Duenna) were able to embody their characters perfectly both in terms of music and drama skills – their acting was expressive and exciting. As for the drive, Alexandrov’s actors are no worse than their colleagues from "big" theaters. The orchestra and the choir of The St. Petersburg Chamber Opera (led by choirmaster Maria Gergel) performed really well and professionally, despite the acoustic context not favorable for this opera.