Opera, the gym, the metro …but mostly opera.

THE GYM

I signed up for Planet Fitness (or Планета Фитнес) near my apartment as a preemptive measure against seasonal winter blues…the days are getting shorter! Also, I want to eat as many pirogi as I want.

I like to attend fitness classes and work out in a group. The trainers here come into class, don’t introduce themselves, and get right to work. They always play American music, so if I close my eyes it almost feels like I am back home in the USA….if it weren’t for the trainer yelling at me in Russian, of course:

Trainer: “LUNGES!! 25 MORE!!”

Me: “ughhhhh”

Trainer: “YOU! OVER THERE! GO LOWER! SLOWER!”

Me: *pretends not to understand Russian*

SINGING OPERA

I performed in Tchaikovsky’s opera “Iolanta” this weekend in the conservatory’s Theater of Opera and Ballet:

Театр 

Iolanta is the story of a young princess who was blind from birth, but had this kept from her for her entire life. Her father the king ordered everyone to never let her know about her misfortune: she did not know about sight, colors, light… Iolanta, feeling that she was missing something in her life, thought that her eyes existed only to cry. To make a long story short, a noble knight encounters Iolanta, spoils the secret by telling her about sight, and ignites in her the desire to see. She is cured by a doctor, marries her knight, and everyone rejoices. Yay, happily ever after!

I played Brigitta, Iolanta’s friend/lady-in-waiting:

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To be involved in the shows here, you have to learn the part on your own (you can get coachings with the opera staff) and then show up to the first rehearsal memorized. There can be several people going for the same role, and we all take turns singing musical rehearsals and running staging sessions.

During this process, it’s all very vague as to who will actually be singing in the performance…in fact, I didn’t know I was going to perform until two days before the show, when I saw my wig/makeup call for the orchestra dress rehearsal! 

Here is a press release advertising the performance:

http://operaspb.ru/index.php/news/operanews/94

Such an awesome experience! I don’t have a picture from our actual performance, but here is a picture from a previous run of the same production, so you can see the other costumes: 

Iolanta

MORE OPERA

I enjoyed seeing Verdi’s “Otello” in Mariinsky II, the latest addition to the Mariinsky theater venues. It was opened last year, and has amazing acoustics and very unique architectural design:

Mar II 3  MarII

I can’t possibly have a blog post without mentioning food, so here is the mid-opera snack my friend Daria and I had after act II of Otello:

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The story is so long and tragic, it definitely warranted some emotional eating to alleviate the sadness. Spoiler: everyone dies. 

Some more shots inside Mariinsky II: 

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The original Mariinsky Theater is also gorgeous, and I can just feel all of the history when I walk in…many composers had their works premiered here, including Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov:

Mariinsky mariinka

ST. PETERSBURG SUBWAY (not the restaurant)

I don’t have to commute to the conservatory, since I am lucky enough to live ten minutes away on foot. However, I still use the subway to get around, and it is quite an experience. The metro is located very deep underground because St. Petersburg was built on marshland and required a lot of digging to get it on solid ground. This results in very loooooong escalator rides:

metro 2 

Some of the stations are very elaborate and beautiful, like Avtovo Station:

Avtovo Station, Saint Petersburg, Russia tourism destinations

(Nerd alert: Avtovo station reminds me of Moria, the dwarf kingdom from Lord of the Rings. ^_^)

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Month-a-versary

MONTH-A-VERSARY
Yesterday marked the first month of my time here, September 1st to October 1st. It is going by so fast!

LOCAL BABUSHKAS

I have been making the acquaintance of the neighbors around my apartment, among whom are several older babushkas who, after looking me up and down, feel personally responsible for advising me on how to dress warmer. Since it is only September, I imagine this will only continue into the winter months. The other day on the stairwell, I had such an encounter, but this time the babushka asked me, “I hear you singing sometimes. Are you going to apply for that TV show, The Voice?” I tried to explain that the Voice is for pop music, I sing opera…etc etc. She was not convinced.

CLASSES

I have a one-on-one discussion session about the history of Russian vocal music with the head of the Art Song department, Maria Germanova, once a week. She is a pianist, singer, and Phd musicologist, plus an incredible story-teller. We started by talking about ancient Russian chants, folk music, and will continue on to talk about romances, opera, salon music, soviet-era composers and modern composers.

I am taking voice lessons with Olga Dmitrievna Kondina, a coloratura soprano who is a “заслуженная артистка России” (Honored Artist of Russia) and “народная артистка Росии” (National Artist of Russia) for her many years as a performer and soloist with the Mariinsky Theater. She is a beautiful singer, but also a warm person with a great sense of humor. She often pauses my lessons to tell me anecdotes, or to tell me about her vocal journeys. She was actually a violinist before she was a singer, and graduated with a degree in violin before she became a vocalist. She was discovered by the vocal faculty at her conservatory when she volunteered to sing a piece with the orchestra she was playing in. They needed a soprano and mezzo, and the orchestra director turned to the ensemble and asked…”So….who sings?” Ms. Kondina volunteered, a voice professor heard her, and the rest is history.

Here is a video of her singing “Casta Diva”:

MARIINSKY CONCERT HALL 

I went to see Britten’s War Requiem performed at the Концертный Зал Мариинского Театра/The Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theater, played by members of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra, the Mariinsky’s professional chorus, a childrens choir, and three vocal soloists. It was an epic affair, made even more so by the presence of the conductor, Valery Gergiev:

Gergiev

The audience loves him, there was a palpable shift in the applause and a general sigh of admiration when he came out on stage. This reaction was definitely well-deserved, the concert was very powerful, ranging from beautiful, reverent pianissimos to huge moments when the entire ensemble was involved. What an emotional, thought-provoking work.

The concert hall was built relatively recently, first opened in 2007, and the wooden architecture of the interior makes for some spectacular acoustics. The walls are lined with wood, but are shaped in a way that creates a flow in the room:

Zal 2 Zal 1

(Disclaimer…not my pictures! I love Google Image!)

On my way home after the concert, here was my view of the Conservatory, across the street from the Mariinsky Theater:

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St. Petersburg is beautiful at night…it is probably good that I enjoy the darkness, since I am going to experience a lot of it! The sun hibernates here, and in December there are days when there will be only a few hours of daylight. Something to look forward to, with some Vitamin D in hand.

RUSSIAN CURES

I didn’t get to see as much this week as I would have liked, because the season took its toll and I caught my traditional fall cold. On the plus side, it was yet another Russian adventure, this time into the land of Russian homeopathic medicines. Nina Nikolaevna cured me quite quickly with various remedies, including mint oils for the throat, lemons, teas and juices, and a particular remedy which can only be described as sticking cotton swabs drenched in Russia’s version of VapoRub up my nose. It was amazing. I am going to take a suitcase full of the stuff back home!

CHURCH CHOIRS

I have visited several churches here in town, and am delighted with the range and beauty of the singing. One of the churches I visited first was the St. Isidore Cathedral:

isidore

The church was completed around 1907, originally intended to host an Estonian-Orthodox parish. It was closed during the soviet era, but is now renovated and working. I really enjoyed hearing their choir, and recorded the Cherubic Hymn:

Another site I visited is the Kazan Church at the Valaamskoye Podvorye, which is affiliated with the Valaam monastery:

valaam

They sing in an ancient liturgical style, which is called Znammeny chant, with all-male choir. It is very solemn and beautiful:

http://valaam.ru/files/CD/TP02/Vzbrannoi%20Voevode.mp3

Below is a recording from a CD they released a few years ago, different style but just as beautiful:

I STILL LOVE FOOD

The other day, I was finally able to visit the Sennoy Rinok, the local market, which is only fifteen minutes walk away from my apartment. The season is perfect for shopping there right now, and it was really a feast for the eyes:

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Speaking of feasts, I visited a local bakery and tried pirogi with my new friend Maya, who also did a Fulbright here in St. Petersburg a few years ago. They tasted just as good as they look:

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