A year ago a premiere of Turandot took place on the stage of NOVAT, which gave a start to cooperation between our Theatre and stage director Vyacheslav Starodubtsev. At this very moment the stage director and his team are preparing the fourth full-scale premiere, while Turandot and Aida fashion opera have already become the audience's favourites and shaped the image of the Theatre in many ways. Premiere of the current season - Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades opera (the production goes by the title The Queen of Spades. The Game), - is a significant production for Vyacheslav Starodubtsev. It was preceded by a lot of preparatory work with the scores, thorough studying of history of the opera creation and previous productions. The production required absolute devotion, deep delving into the material, searching for answers, that are born from such complex pieces. However, "The Queen of Spades" is a piece loved by millions, which has a lot of favourite tunes, duets and scenes. A true classic opera masterpiece. The director has presented a production that is not only bright, emotional and spectacular (especially with luxurious costumes by Zhanna Usachyova), but he has offered an unexpected new interpretation of that great tragic masterpiece. The opera has received numerous reviews of critics and opera enthusiasts. It fitted in our Theatre's life perfectly.
— On one hand your profession is very complex and, on the other hand, it is behind the scenes. What's happened to your personality that you have developed and decoded to take this profession?
— You mentioned the key word - developed. In common, stage direction is a certain milestone. As a rule you become a stage director and receive a diploma as a second education. The director is a man who has finally realized what he wants in his life, developed personality, a leader who takes full responsibility. This profession takes in components of other professions: director - is a psychologist, an art historian, a teacher and musicologist, specialist in drama and organizer, there are lots of components. So the direction - it's cultural-socio-economically-love-art experience that grows inside a person. My maturation was long enough: I graduated as an opera singer, sang about twenty operatic roles in Helikon-Opera, I’ve been working there for already fifteen seasons, and indeed I have performed dramatic roles more than opera ones, but for these two seasons the number equaled. At some point, I felt as I was missing: I had a lot of emotion knowledge, understanding of men and women behavior when life experience has formed but scientific expertise, book experience, it demanded recharge. And of course I started looking for such recharge in greatest books: I’ve read Felsenstein, Pokrovsky, Mikhail Chekhov, Chaliapin, Meyerhold, Tairov, I’ve set a goal to read everything on the basics of my profession. And I did it. After I took everything, I wrote a thesis, developed as a person, after I realized that I wanted and what I enjoyed, I realized that it was stage direction of both Drama and Opera, but Opera House - it's still a top point as it is much more complicated than drama.
It was a great pleasure for me to study Stanislavsky’s method of physical actions. Stanislavsky wrote his system off a great opera singer Chaliapin - not a dramatic actor, but opera performer. Michael Chekhov’s method is close for me, his developments in the field of psychological gesture are incredibly helpful applied to musical theater, they are particularly useful on such a scale as the Novosibirsk Theater. Inner experience embodies into voice, musical tone, an effective intonation. But you can not exist only under the laws of psychological theater, gesture is more important that the audience can see at 1,2,3 tiers, shows the inner reaction ... The biomechanics of Meyerhold fits best ... I could not realize that I possess all this and that I speak the same language with actors until I passed my own scenic way. I still can not understand the way this genre goes and what way I should follow, so I haven’t started up this journey yet.
— You say that in the opera house, in contrast to the drama theatre, the leading role is given to the music. In general, how big is the role of actor’s personality in Opera?
— Personality desires everything. Culture, art, and trends create personalitities. So, what personality is? It’s a charismatic maverick who is guided by aesthetic, artistic, cultural, musical experience, but this is an integral person. What is talent? Talent is a way out of any frames. Of course, operatic voice is the kiss of God, anyway. When the God gives you voice you can somehow correct and develop it, but most importantly, it either exists or not, and it is the highest gift of the gods. It is a very difficult way: seven years of music school, 4 years of musical college, 5 years of conservatory. You have to study for 16 years just to try yourself in theater, and if - oh gods! - You have passed, only 16 years later you start career as opera singer on the opera stage. It is a great job and formation of personality. Unfortunately, now we often say "we are artists and we do not care that was before us; if we want to make a performance, we will do it", but it can’t be so. I'm not talking about the restrictions and prohibitions, I speak about an internal culture that distinguishes man from animal. This does not mean "I'm doing what I want," it is also possible as "a form of my existence as an artist, I will rise up and pee on the door of the Opera House", can you understand? Well, it's not art.
— It is not a work.
— First, it’s not a work, and secondly, not the result of creation. The art and the theater are the result of creation, very time consuming, very costly psychologically, but the result of creation, and the audience can see the result, integral and holistic, rather than the result of your internal obscure experiments. One of the choreographers said about modern dance: "Answer the three questions: why on stage? Why at all? Why with music? "If you can answer these three questions, then yes, it is called a ballet.
— Maybe that’s because we do not create art, but we try to show reality as art.
— Well, maybe. You know, all the flowers are good, let all be, but I always put myself in viewer’s place, the man who lives in an ordinary house, earns an ordinary salary ... When I was a student I also tried to save some money from the scholarship to go and see a play. I understand that a person is drawn to highest art that he can not see in the street, and he pays the last coin, perhaps taking away from the children, from the ...
— From the first material needs ...
— Yes, dresses up and goes to the theater, and at the theater he should see what will not see in the street. The theater must be a fairy tale and the beauty. Yes, really, dramatic, yes, psychology, but always on the buskins, of course, we now displace buskins, but buskins are different. I'm not talking about the grotesque theatrics, but do not exclude the depth and sharp sociality. But all this sociality can be performed by high artistic means, rather than low and daily.
— And if we talk about cultivating something more, the talent, as a director, how do you treat to imitation? What does talent mean for you: to start imitating someone or do different, or it is possible to emulate as long as you jump up to tour peak?
— You know, the person always starts with imitation. Van Gogh would never have become Van Gogh, if he had not learned the art of African masks, Meyerhold would never have created the biomechanics without studying Italian theater dell'arte. Of course, first you have to learn, and then you create your own. And it's coquetry, when they say "no, I haven’t seen it" or "No, I’m trying not to watch" ... Yes, everyone watch and copy, but one is inspired, and the other just copies. And it is important, you know, not to be a copy, but to have experience.
— Then another question: how do you think, what is the mission, purpose and role of the director? To tell something to the society, trying to change it, or to reflect society?
— No... this is my religion, but reflecting the society can go the wrong way. You know as they say" in the newspaper in the morning, in the operetta in the evening". It was told of Viennese operetta. Of course, there are different approaches, but mine is to tell something.
— Then the operator ceases to be something sublime.
— Yes, I am often accused. They say, I love the audience more than the critics. I do not hide that love. The spectator pays money for a ticket. I am invited to NOVAT because all my projects are sold out, and I'm proud of it. And I'm not flirtatious saying "no, of course, not!", because it is the result of my work and my team’s work, difficult, internal, psychological. I have flights dozen times a week, I do not sleep, I change time zones, I can be apart from my family for months, I read, surf the internet, I give myself to every artist, working with them. I'm trying to make myself and all around me better, I write these texts, do marketing, literary section, make booklets... I like it a lot, and I am proud that the audience appreciates it.
— And shares.
— And shares. And this coquetry "no, no!" I work for the audience, it is the ultimate goal. It is not even the ultimate goal but an ordinary goal, a common. When the artist says, "No, I'm not interested in what the audience says, I work not for the audience ..." Well, then work at home. So I took the Queen of Spades, I want to know everything about the Queen of Spades. I want to get to the bottom of each moment. Tchaikovsky is a great composer, my favorite, and evetything he did in his works, he drew from his private life. I'm trying to get better, to get closer to the material to discover its maximum. You see, I have no problem to stun with my super concept, the greatest pleasure I feel from the fact that I’ve taken everything, and as a result - bam! I think it’s some coming out of heaven, and it's not flirting, I swear, there are some moments when - bam! - and that’s it. It is not mine, but as a result of some coincidences, as a result of work with certain artists, meetings with certain people, occasional sms, messages, heard on the radio, read in the newspaper ... Yes, all the signals are everywhere, so WE SHOULD LISTEN TO HEAVEN AS IT’S EVERYWHERE, good is more than evil, each person has wings, but we are closed and do not believe in these wings, in all good that is inside us. You see, we do not believe in God ... You can call it as you want: God, heaven, highest power, sun ... We do not believe in the sun, we believe that we are wiser than the sun. But something is in the air, and - bam! - it turns out to be something interesting, something exciting.
— Have you ever been to Novosibirsk before?
— I’ve performed as an actor in Roman Viktyuk’s theatre, but it was long ago, I do not remember when.
— Did you know about changes in the theater?
— I knew nothing, I swear. I don’t want to talk about Tannhauser. I started googling Tannhauser while waiting for the flight to Novosibirsk. I’m in Moscow where I haven’t been for two months, I previously had no time, I’ve produced four premieres, Cyrano de Bergerac in the Maritime drama, Mavr in Vladivostok Opera House, then made a "Poetic masquerade" with Sasha Vasilyev and something else. And about Dima Jurowski Turandot it all began with a live version, maximum – for a week.
— It was done in a week?
— In seven days exactly. Not in seven, it is general, but exactly 48 hours the stage. Before the premiere these doors were being nailed at 18.40, so it's all done just in 48 scenic hours. They all came, and it was written on the tickets "concert performance", no one believed, and also Dima.
— So you were nailing the last nails at 18.40?
— Yes, it is possible only with love. Here is an amazing cast, well-organized team, a great theatrical piece, and everyone somehow believe ... I love to excite the space and myself: the worse I feel, so I draw and wind up myself, it’s a way to survive. Oh, by the way, it is right even in physiological sense, not to relax but wind up yourself. We made Aida in 3 weeks.
— And in the end? When was the concept of the new NOVAT created?
— That is how the concept of new NOVAT created. During rehearsals for Turandot Vladimir Abramovich Kehman called me and said: "Everything is clear with Turandot, but how will you call it?" I like thinking out additions to the title: "Mavra" by Stravinsky was an opera joke. And we began to dream, and I say: well, let's invent the genre. Thought of "Opera ritual", but we did not like the word "ritual"... As a result, we stopped at the opera quest and decided to make a lecture and performance, and quest. "It was cool, let’s stage Aida, and think how we’ll call it." I thought and thought, Aida is such a large-scale opera in the opera history, grand and I would like to give a new interesting aesthetics, because it’s a staggering scale of Egypt. I thought it would be Fashion Opera.
—... So you are the new face of NOVAT...
— I had the desire. I will tell you what I was thinking about, maybe for the first time. It was a very tough story of Tannhauser, and I know it was not so simple. This story reflected painfully on the opera troupe. The people who had wanted this scandal, did not expect that it would be so painful. I was very sorry for the theater and the troupe, and I came here for the first time to work, and all of them with such pain grasped, "oh, work with us, oh, yes, cool!" I started pulling them out of this gloom, began to excite them, placed in extreme working atmosphere that they all came to life, started to work in a short time, all active, everyone stretched wings, started breathing, and it was very important for me, you know ... it might sound pathetic, but I took it as a mission.
— You are apparently fatalistic.
— Well, if the God allows then I'm sent here with some purpose, though it may sound pathetic again. Well, my mission, my Lord once brought me here by incomprehensible ways, they all say, "Well, okay, you will stage one performance" ... And now I'm releasing the fourth.
— Tell us about the Queen of Spades.
— Everyone perceive the "Queen of Spades" as a gloomy story, taking place in a gray rainy St. Petersburg, all the performances show mysticism and gloom, but forget about the sun which breaks through the darkness thanks to the powerful energy of life rooted in the great music of Tchaikovsky. Pyotr Ilyich wrote it in Florence and went there specifically to compose the Queen of Spades. Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades is not like Pushkin’s. Tchaikovsky redrew everything in his own way, made the first scene in the summer garden, thought out new characters. "Finally, God sent us a sunny day", it is one of the first choirs ... At last he broke out of this rainy St. Petersburg to Florence, he went to the taverns there watching Aida and here are these words: "Aida" in Paliano. Scoundrel kapellmeister. Scoundrel choirs. Everything is provincial. I left after the 2 Act! ". In the evening of the next day I was terribly drunk. I got back to the hateful "Aida" and where I hang around... ". This is a bright history but all the same Tchaikovsky made a hero of Dostoevsky’s German more than of Pushkin’s hero. There's a very powerful music, very powerful internally, but also very passionate – it is not depressing, it is winningly sunny.
— Why the Game?
— The Game is today’s coordinate system. People staked and lost houses, manors, fortune, peasants, they were playing love, played with love, played with death in duels. Today we play with social status, play with success and facebook, we always play. German is the only one who does not play, but experiencing emotionally inside. I worked out that each character has own color and number, all the characters are like a deck of cards.
— Do you believe in signs? Does the total scene always form in your head?
— That’s what I always say: I form overall picture when I fall asleep. I always learn something I work with. This is a book I brought - Meyerhold "The Queen of Spades," a brilliant book, signed by Viktyuk with the white feather in it ... Do you know a belief: when you go and see a white feather you surely must take it as it was lost by your guardian angel. These are signs. I picked up this maple leaf in the Lavra in St. Petersburg. This is a rose petal I was presented in Klin, and it’s a blade of grass from Tchaikovsky's grave... All these will be in our booklet.
— You have Tchaikovsky in you book.
— Well, yes.
— I have a question, perhaps, the last one. It seems that I know the answer, but still I’ll ask. Are you a happy man, probably?
— Surely, I'm the happiest man, because I have been doing such a fantastic thing, I work with my own fantasies, childhood dreams, I implement them on the stage. Previously we played soldiers and dolls, and I do the same with real people on the stage, on the best stages, with great artists. There was a project with Cabo and Kharatyan, Dima Kharatyan ... I was growing up with his songs and movies, I know "The Midshipmen" by heart. I touched the greatest ... Well, how is it? I have never had heroes, but I had elves.
— Are there any of those elves who you would like to work with?
— My life is a great meeting with the elves: Vishnevskaya, Obraztsova, Pokrovsky, Kharatyan, Dzhigarkhanyan, Margarita Terekhova, Vladimir Hotinenko, Vladimir Mirzoyev, Bertman, Viktyuk ... I’ve never dreamed of that meeting with these great people, and so I'm a happy man as I get beyond my dreams. In fact, you know, our fantasies - that's the real life, we live in dreams, we are the strongest there, the most beautiful, the happiest, the most loved, the most healthy ... So for me the theater - is to be the most-most-most through someone, through the characters, through artists, through all of these. I realize my childhood dreams in the theater - that's why I'm the happiest. I never stop praying, this is a moment of happiness - after a successful rehearsal when the artist could fulfill the task, if the audience understood that I wanted to show in one or another stage setting, this or that visual or musical episode or scene. It is a moment of happiness because someone believed in my dreams, and therefore they continue living in someone and fly even higher. I have return of creation. Theater, art and culture - it is creation - not aggressive but anxious and laborious creation of something, revealing the fragility of beauty, fragility of height, fragility of heaven. Everything is very simple, I say absolutely primitive things, not some wisdom, but they are the wisdom. Well, that is simple, but how to keep it ... The main thing is to be yourself and do not stop listening to heaven