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Opera religion

October 03, 2017

The last time we met Vyacheslav Starodubtsev six months ago at the Novosibirsk Dom Aktyora theatre for the artistic meeting dedicated to the upcoming opera premiere, Un Ballo in Maschera. At that time the director of Turandot, Aida and The Queen of Spades used to carry huge deer spikes and wear a small beard, which made him look a bit like Paul McCartney from 1970s. The Chief Stage Director of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet theatre told us about his new production Lelisir damore, the theatre in general and tricks of the artistic trade.

NOVATs 73rd season started with your premiere, Gaetano Donizettis Lelisir damore. Why did you choose this one?

First of all, Lelisir damore was staged in Novosibirsk 40 years ago. Second, there were no full scale comic operas staged at the theatre for the past ten years, and our theatre needs this kind of performances. This is such a sunny and sparkling genre, yet pretty tough one. In addition to suffering in the opera house, I would also like the audience to smile and laugh at themselves, because no one dies in the end of this opera.

You told in one interview that you like to supervise the process of creating the performance from different point of views. What would you think of the directors concept if you came to see your version of Un Ballo in Maschera, for example.

I always want to convert a theatre first timer to my opera religion. I would like him to fall in love with Opera, as a genre and as a certain performance. My primary goal is not to scare people off the theatre. Each performance I try to get a spectator involved with the direction, the voices, the music. I try to adjust my concept to the music and the composers vision. Speaking of Un Ballo in Maschera, I thought it would be interesting to break the fourth wall, so I moved the duet of Amelia and Riccardo into the auditorium, and the game continued off the stage, and this is intriguing.

Quadcopters have become significantly popular with different festivals and performances. On your opinion, how relevant would it be to use one of those for opera productions of our theatre?

When we were shooting promotional videos for Turandot I was the first one to bring quadcopters to the theatre. Its interesting that we have a dead zone, where one quadcopter crashed into pieces its a place next to the orchestra pit.

Right before the pit it stopped receiving the signal?

Total blackout. It would just fly at its own direction and fall on the seats.

You have recently become a Chief Stage Director - is it hard to combine duties?

Ive been performing all directors duties for more than a year already, now I just have a decent description of a post. Now I have responsibilities to each artist of the company - I need to create characters, make the company the best in the world. At the moment we are holding negotiations with Nicolas Payne, director of Opera Europa (European association for professional opera companies and festivals Rostas note) about NOVAT joining this biggest opera union. It will allow the Novosibirsk theatre to reach international level. Besides, I usually plan the repertoire for several seasons ahead, think of developing each soloist, especially the younger ones I need to pick a character, sometimes to oppose a personality, sometimes for future reference: an artist advances only while working on the stage.

Your personal schedule got pretty tight due to a number of performances in different cities of Russia. If you had a choice, what would you choose: have a day-off or make a rehearsal of the performance, set to premiere in three months?

I cant go without work. Thats a feature of my organism I cannot rest too much, physically. Three days off are enough for me to relax and recover. They usually go like this: first day I sleet in my hotel room, second day I rest on the beach and get sunburn, on the third one I swim and rest on the beach, on the fourth day Im already urging to do things. I still have a lot of projects in Vladivostok, very busy schedule, it a good thing they have bays and the ocean nearby.

The sea inspires you?

Yes it is. I need water, a lot of it. Even in the shower I think of future performances.

How often do you meet younger audience on your performances?

Quite often. If we fail to cultivate love of opera, this opera religion to the younger generation, we will lose.

You mean lose a generation of artists, composers and directors?

I have been giving lessons at GITIS (RUTA) for more than ten years, almost every year I was a member of preliminary examination committee. I enrolled in 2000, and the competition was insane 30-40 applicants for one place, specialization artist of musical theatre, and 10 people for a director specialization. Later in 2009-20012 we had lack of applicants, about 1,5 people for a place, we accepted almost everyone. Those were the kids born in nineties, when Russia withstood a decrease of birth rate.

Now its the time when we have to offer an option, a choice for the young people: apply for drama, opera, musical, contemporary choreography. Its important for me that young boys and girls watch ballet in addition to the dances on TNT TV channel, opera in addition to The Voice show.

What performance do you remember the best from your childhood?

I grew up in Tula, and we only had a drama theatre, and a puppet theatre. We also had a childrens theatre, but I didnt go there for some reason. I loved musical theatre after watching Juno and Avos. At that time Alexey Rybnikovs theatre was visiting the town. I was fascinated by Rybnikovs music! I was fourteen at that time. I particularly liked the image of the bell-ringer and his aria. After the show I met the artist behind the stage; I had the score of Amid the Din of the Bal by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Alexey left his autograph on it. I still have that paper, I used it to sing at preliminary exams for GITIS (RUTA).

I got acquainted with opera much later, after moving to Moscow. I spent three years studying in Tula, then entered GITIS without finishing the fourth year. My first time in opera was on September 3rd, 2001 in the Bolshoi theatre, Ivan Susanin performance. Heres what I saw: a corpulent woman singing the part of a boy Vanya, I couldnt understand a word of her singing. The scenery was disgusting: dusty and messy. I disliked it heavily.

Did you love music from the very childhood?

I didnt go to a musical school, though I studied vocal, music and theatre arts at a Palace of the Pioneers. Actually I never finished my music education. Its only three years of Tula musical college, vocal department.

Are your parents professional musicians?

No. They are all military men: even mother and sister, sisters husband and brother. I also wanted to get a military grade. I thought of entering the Suvorov Military School.

What opera or book character would you identify yourself with?

I was a tenor, so its Lensky, of course. Despite people saying Lensky is quite raptured and not so bright, you cant deny hes very honest, impulsive and emotional. We share these aspects with him.

Since 2006 youve been giving lessons on acting and directing in GITIS. Why did you quit teaching?

I didnt want to get their hopes high about me coming there once a month. At that time I started a lot of projects in Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and St.-Petersburg, I moved around the country a lot, so I told the guys: I love you all, but I cannot be with you technically.

Would you like to work with students now?

Yes, Id like to! Im good at that, I see the results. There are a lot of actors and directors, who call me their teacher, its very important for me. It was very touching moment for me: I walk down the Kamergersky drive and a girl runs up to me and thanks me for helping her enter the Moscow State Art Theatre. I will never forget those victories, when together with a student we would manage to accomplish something he couldnt do before. I hope one day I will muster up my own class within GITIS.

Nowadays there are a lot of theatres, not just opera theatre, also dramatic ones searching for new forms, trying new things, making experiments to keep the audience from going home after the first act. What are your ways of attracting the audience?

The contemporary theatre is very straightforward. I am interested with things hidden deep inside human soul, emotions. Its essential for me to get the audience connected to my performance.

Nowadays its important to bring the imagination back to a spectator. Theatre is metaphorical, imaginary, and it drags us to some conclusion through subconscious levels of our personality.

The great power of theatre is how it can speak through stage images, characters, artistic structure, multi-layer concept to make a man find something personal, solve a theatre mystery, a puzzle. Nowadays theatre got simple, this way we make audience dumber, and a man is much more complex than that. Me personally, I find it more interesting to solve, to think over stage action when Im watching a performance than just contemplate.

You spoke of images created by objects and I thought of early Jeff Koons (modern American artist Rosta note) installations, when he used to take new vacuum cleaners or some neon tubes of ready-made home appliances and put it under a glass cone and the people in general wouldnt understand it. However, in case of vacuum cleaners the idea was to show how virgin this equipment is being created by a man during industrialization. This is also a metaphorical perception.

I will quote Irina Antonova (Russian Art Expert Rostas note) to speak of contemporary art: Art must tell more than I contain. I havent seen this installation, but if you remember how we discussed a shark in formalin (work of a British artist Damien Hirst The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living), than this shark doesnt describe something more than I have inside me. Perhaps, its very installational, but I appreciate more the cryptic images.

On a scale from 1 to 10 describe how much you want to perform on NOVAT stage as a soloist?

This scene is for great artists and singers, I cannot afford to stay next to them. Some directors find it normal to go on stage as an actor, I think its wrong. When you are a part of a performance you are literally abnormal, as for director, he must control thing outside the box.

So, its zero?

You know, I cant go without the stage either. There are projects where I participate as an actor, but its not NOVATs stage. This one is for the great voices.

What would you tell to a young spectator who came to see an opera performance for the first time?

Id want him to fall in love with this genre, because its not boring, its familiar and amazing its out of this world! In theatre you can see things you wont see anywhere else, not at home, not on the street, in theatre you will feel something you never felt before. Its like eating Krasnodar tomatoes right from the plant compared to tasteless tomatoes from the shop.

The same goes for the theatre?

Correct. Its important for me to feel this so I could say: Guys, this is pure love, this is pure beauty. The Love potion performance, you can taste it on your tongue, because its a story about you today. We are currently living in a consumer society. Commercials make us buy anything they want, even if its fake. Anything can become a love potion, even a simple bottle of wine. This is a story of modern life.