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April 23rd:

Vladimir Tarnopolsky's opera "Beyond the shadow" on the stage of the Azerbaijan State Theatre of Young Spectators

One of the central events of the Festival was the performance of a multimedia opera by Vladimir Tarnopolsky "Beyond the shadow" on 23rd of April at the Azerbaijan State Theatre of Young Spectators. The premiere of this opera took place at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, in 2006, and in Baku was demonstrated the recent performance of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre.

The concept of the opera was identified by the two ancient sources — "The Parable of the Cave" by Plato and the legend of the origin of painting out of the shadow, outlined in the treatise by Pliny the Elder "Natural History." Plato metaphorically represents the world as a cave, and all the people — as the prisoners of the cave. They see only its wall, taking reflections and shadows on it for the true world. According to Pliny, a girl encircles the shadow contour of her lover with a piece of charcoal, thus creating the first image: so the painting begins. The basis of the libretto are fragments of texts from "The Divine Comedy" by Dante, "The dispute about the primacy of Arts" by Leonardo da Vinci, "Hymn to the Sun" by Akhenaten, excerpts from the books of Nietzsche and other classical sources.

The composition of the opera is based on the parallel development of two lines. The first is represented by three Allegories of Art (a female trio) — a kind of antique Three Graces. The second line represents the captives of the cave (a male trio), their prototype being Rodin's sculpture group "Three Shadows" (from the composition "The Gates of Hell" by Dante). These are a kind of two "three-headed" characters singing only in ensemble. In the instrumental episodes the Art and the Prisoners are scenically represented by a Female Dancer and a Male one. The latter is the only one, who leaves the Cave and reaches the Light. The central figure of the opera, who fastens the two lines and embodies the process of contemplation and reflection, is the Philosopher: this declamatory role is entrusted to a well-known musicologist, Professor of the Moscow Conservatory Mikhail Saponov.

The performance was prepared by an international group of authors. The director of this version was the student of the world famous choreographer Merce Cunningham and a composer John Cage, Robert Wexler (USA), and a special interactive computer program that captured and converted the shadow projections of the artists directly during the performance developed a media-artist Frieder Weiss (Germany). A well-known Russian group "Studio for New Music" was divided into two ensembles, being in a constant dialogue with each other on the opposite sides of the stage during the opera. In contrast to a Moscow version, they were directed by two conductors: A Honored Artist of Russia, conductor and director of the Moscow performance Igor Dronov and his young Azerbaijani counterpart Fuad Ibrahimov. The spatial "antiphon" effects of the instrumental sound are one of the most important musical colors in the opera.

Alongside with an experienced soloist Ekaterina Kichigina, who had been performing the most complex vocal parties in collaboration with the "Studio for New Music" for many years, the soloists of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, such as: Olga Lutsiv-Ternovskaya, Svetlana Sumacheva, Sergey Nikolaev, Dmitriy Kondratkov and Mikhail Golovushkin also took part in the opera. The laborious work on ensembles full of numerous intonation, rhythmic and phonetic difficulties, was not in vain: the quality of the Baku performance was not only inferior to that of the Moscow one, but also exceeded it in some fragments. The high professionalism of performers, as well as the extensive preparatory work of the authors of the play in collaboration with the Azerbaijan Theatre for Young Spectators, brought the deserved success to the Festival performance.

— The opera was originally assigned for a specific architecture [Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle in Bonn, where the two groups of the orchestra were located on two balconies — Ed.] — Says the composer Vladimir Tarnopolsky. — At the same time you can put in any space where you can place two orchestras and two groups of soloists. Today I am repeatedly said that a wider area (such as this here) can better identify the spatial features of this music, but I am not so sure.

— Is this not the first performance of your music in Azerbaijan?

— In 2011, at the IV Qara Qarayev Festival, Alexander Ivashkin performed with the Azerbaijan State Symphonic Orchestra directed by Rauf Abdullayev my work …Le vent des mots qu'il n'a pas dits. In addition, as far as I know, my piano piece Eindruck-Ausdruck was also several times performed.

Mentally the image of Baku is connected not only with music for me. A very important role in philosophical discussions, in discussions about art on the pages of our magazines is played by Azerbaijani authors. Some of them certainly have had an impact on me. There are also more superficial, but no less thrilling experiences: for example, I remember a match of KVN (a humorous competition game) "Baku – Odessa" many years ago, the two equal teams. Baku won, by the way. Very good players from Baku were also in the "What? Where? When?" (an intellectual TV show)…

— If we go back to the music, how do you assess the current level of the Azerbaijani professional orchestra?

— It is absolutely wonderful! The complex compositions are performed, the program is very serious, no external desire "to catch the listener at any cost."

— And does the level of the audience correspond?

— I can not judge a wide audience, but as for the professional community – it is of international level, as everywhere in the world. Maybe even with an attempt to look at our diverse world more deeply and comprehensively, thanks to a kind of "double vision", a combination of East and West. That is their great advantage.

— Can, in your opinion, this "double vision" affect the concept of the Festival in the future?

— It's hard to talk about the Festival as a whole: the schedule of rehearsals did not allow visiting all the concerts. The experience of our "Moscow Forum" festivals shows, that invitation of leading foreign groups and the simultaneous integration of a large number of domestic artists — is a viable idea. We can develop the Festival in this direction, and the serious intellectual and cultural elite of Baku can certainly contribute.

We asked the director and choreographer of the play Robert Wechsler and media artist Frieder Weiss a question:

— A plastic drawing and an interactive video projection form a common continuum in the play. Have you worked on these two elements together simultaneously?

Frieder Weiss: Initially we worked independently, then came a period of association of our ideas…

Robert Wechsler: In fact, we have been working together for nearly twenty years. The work on the interactive projects is a kind of specialization for video artists, as well as for directors and choreographers.

Frieder Weiss: It's a little alike the interaction in jazz: there is no exact text, but there are certain forms, materials, which the musicians are developing in collaboration with each other. You have to be a jazz musician to understand the specifics. That's the same here.

— Your work is also deeply connected with the musical score…

Robert Wechsler: Yes, we spent a lot of time studying the music of the opera. During the performance Frieder directs the video projection according to the moment of the sound, activates certain elements, providing the "live interaction" of the sound, movement and video.

Frieder Weiss: My task is not only technical problems and control of the video projection. A media artist becomes a full participant in the process of performing, in cooperation with the other participants.

— Robert, what is the paramount for you in this work, the choreographic pattern or the plastic of actors?

Robert Wechsler: According to my "philosophy", everyone is a dancer. The Dance is one of the common instincts, in the classical ballet it is presented in its refined form, but its borders are actually much wider.

— Were there any significant differences in your work on the first version in Bonn and the second one — in Moscow and Baku? Perhaps you had to add something or v.v.?

Frieder Weiss: The development of video technology took place: a new interactive system was created, as well as the new projections. Technically, we have made a significant progress.

Robert Wechsler: I must admit that in Bonn I did not fully understand what the opera was about. I knew its subject, but could not quite understand its interpretation in music. The opera is a great work, it tells a story, it is a kind of a journey. I was lost, as a result it caused some funny moments… Over time, the meaning of this tragic story and its inner drama become clearer to me.
The German artists were very competent, serious — and the German version was more serious and strict. I changed a lot of things for the Russian version: on the one hand, it is a tragedy; on the other hand, its central point is the search for the Light. The opera brings sad news: people want to be free, but for the most part they can not. They say they want to see the Light of truth — but they can not do it, and many do not even try to find a way… This is what Plato says: the most people have no hope. The deep sadness lies in the play itself. But that's the way life is: we have to accept it and strive towards the Light — with the help of Art.

More photographs are here.
Original photographs are available upon request.

Prepared by Vladislav Tarnopolsky and Julia Dmitrioukova, Press Center of the Festival

Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council            Medeniyyet TV           YOL Magazine           'Muzikalnaya Zhizn' magazine, Moscow