La Traviata from beyond the Urals – a joy at the White Rock

Ever optimistic, we booked for La Traviata, put on by the obscure-sounding Russian State Ballet and Opera Theatre,
at the White Rock
. Our last couple of experiences down there have been grim, never mind trying a one-night stand from a touring troupe of Russians.
     However, the whole experience was a delight. The performance had a wonderfully old-fashioned feel,

Olga Sosnovskaya as Violetta

with lots of big ball-gowns, corsets and flowing white nighties…. I kept imagining the Victorian well-to-do of Hastings, making their way to the newly-opened Pier Pavilion for just such a spectacle.
     The performance had English surtitles – always a bonus, even though the plot of La Traviata is well-known, and best of all, the performers were crackingly good. Don’t get me wrong, we ain’t talking Covent Garden here, but all the principals, and indeed the chorus, had beltingly strong voices that zapped briskly into every cavernous corner of the theatre.
     The young woman playing Violetta (Olga Sosnovskaya?) did an excellent job. She hit every note robustly and confidently, and served up a classic death-bed scene. Her Alfredo was interesting – at first sight, he resembled an earnest  Japanese concert pianist who had got the wrong week for the Music Festival, but he had a fine voice, acted well and made a real fist of the role. Germont père also had an excellent voice, although we did feel he could have injected a bit more gravitas into his performance. Some of the minor players, such as the Baron, were a bit wooden, but you can’t have everything….
     In addition to all this there was a perfectly competent full orchestra – we were sitting in the second row back of the stalls – practically had the double-bassist’s elbow in our faces.
     I was so pessimistic about the experience that I didn’t even get a programme – also, they were £5, which seemed a bit steep, so had to do some internet research about the company before writing this.
     Very interesting it is too…..
     Turns out that the Russian State Ballet and Opera Theatre is an umbrella organisation presenting the work of different regional Russian theatre companies. This year’s tour is by the State Ballet and Opera Theatre of Komi, a Russian province north and west of the Urals, partly above the Arctic Circle. The Soviet-era theatre is in the republic’s capital, Syktyvkar. Ever heard of that? No? Neither had I.

State Opera House in Syktyvkar. Their fountain looks a bit like the one in Hastings that is causing a big rumpus at present
Originally, their fountain was a giant statue of Lenin…..

    The population is a mix of the indigenous reindeer-herding Komi people, ex-inhabitants of the gulags and Tatars as well as Russians. Most of the country is tundra, or sub-Arctic forest, and became notorious as the site of many of the Gulags. The Komi people have their own language (Finnish-Uragic?), and their culture was heavily suppressed during the Stalin era.
    It is mind-boggling how many things one knows nothing about…….
    I wonder what life must be like for those performers, touring endless second-rank provincial theatres night after night – Watford, Croydon, Newcastle, Buxton, Worthing, Guildford…. and of course, Hastings.
    Had a bit of a busy day before going to the theatre. My lovely new iphone stopped working, and the nearest Apple store is in Brighton, so had to trek over there. We had a nice day revisiting old shopping haunts, and I got a brand-new phone. I wonder if they have an Apple store in Syktyvkar?….Eeer – no. The first Russian Apple store is shortly to open in Moscow…..

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