Hillary Goes to the Theatre (and the Concert Hall)

October 29, 2011

Mission Experience Culture commences. This week I watched Chekhov’s  “The Seagull” at the Малый Театр (the famous “small” theatre next to the Bolshoi) and the Russian National Orchestra perform Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, which was simply magnificent. Both are within easy walking distance from my apartment, so I took in a lovely (although chilly) stroll along with the performances. After all, access to stellar theatre, classical music, and ballet performances were a huge reason for coming to Moscow in the first place.

Our culture professor warned us that “The Seagull” at the Малый Театр would be a very classical, traditional interpretation, and that we also needed to see it at МХТ – I will get tickets soon and let you know how they compare. Literally the morning of the play, I remembered that I had a seen it before in the US – and had almost fallen asleep. Hoping that it would be better a) in Russian and b) classically interpreted, I arrived at the theatre slightly apprehensive. I need not have worried, about liking the play or understanding the dialog. Perfect Moscow accents made it extremely easy to understand the actors, and after many hours of basic practice in my stage-speaking class, I appreciated the skills of the actors to crisply project every syllable. The mother/actress Arkadina was played by a very well-known Russian stage and film actress, Irina Muravyova. (We had seen her as Lyudmila in the film “Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears” – which I would highly recommend. Apparently it is a rather controversial film for hard-core feminists, but I liked it very much). The audience simply adored her, and she certainly hammed up an already colorful character. There were several outbursts of applause and bravas for her particularly exaggerated lines. As our culture professor asserted, Russians love the theatre – she even went so far to say that it is basically socially unacceptable to state a dislike for the theatre. I don’t know if I’ve reached die-hard Russian theatre-goer stage, but I’m certainly excited for the upcoming plays for which I have tickets. One is a contemporary take on a section of Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” – more highly qualified theatre reviews to come…

I feel slightly more qualified to describe the concert, although it is difficult to come up with anything more than impressions and simply words to describe the impact of Shostakovich. Upon coming to Russian, I quickly learned that instead of the verb “to love,” Russians frequently use обажать (obozhat’) to describe a strongly positive emotion. My host mom, Masha, compared it to the French j’adore. Well, я обожаю музыку Шостаковича[1]. This concert included a series of compositions/exercises for orchestra, and his simply magnificent Fourth Symphony. (His most famous symphony is the seventh, more commonly known in Russia as the Leningrad Symphony. I have my eye out, and am hoping to hear it before I leave. (Warning – if I find it on a concert bill in Saint Petersburg, I will be on the train immediately.) Many Russians I’ve met have commented that Moscow is an amazing place for classical music lovers – based on the ten minutes of clapping and radiant faces following the performance, there are certainly many here. The words that came to mind were frenetic, impending, undercurrents – words whose precision I so miss in Russian.

As we learned in Russian classes at Midd, it is impolite in Russia to turn your back to people when you are sliding past their seats. If you are the last to arrive and your seat is smack in the middle of the row, politely face the people you slide by on the way to your place. This next observation is from a statistically-significant pool of 2 performances in Moscow, but here I go anyway: clapping in unison seems to regularly occur at Russian performances, and I hate it. I think it’s awkward. Any Russian perspectives on that particular peculiarity?

I will finally venture inside the Kremlin tomorrow – pictures and impressions to come!


[1] I adore/strongly love/absolutely revere the music of Shostakovich.


One Response to “Hillary Goes to the Theatre (and the Concert Hall)”

  1. […] also enjoy Hillary’s posts on her time at the Moscow Bolshoi in Tickets, Tickets, Tickets, Hillary Goes to the Theater, and Bread, Beer, and a Bolshoi […]

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