In the lead roles:
Ensemble of soloists of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Opera Singers
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov
The Mariinsky Orchestra
Conductor: Karen Durgaryan
Bela (2014) is an opera by Leonid Klinichev, the renowned composer from Rostov who over the last two years has had a fruitful collaboration with the Mariinsky Theatre and the Mariinsky Academy of Young Opera Singers (including the co-projects of the mono-operas Anna and Maria, dedicated to Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva). Mikhail Lermontov’s novella, which forms part of the famous novel A Hero of Our Time, has drawn the attention of composers on more than one occasion; Pyotr Tchaikovsky planned to write an opera based on the plot (together with Anton Chekhov), and several musical theatre works based on Bela were produced during the Soviet era. Klinichev’s approach to Lermontov’s plot and text is totally independent, although in terms of style it makes reference to classical Russian opera of the 19th century and the former half of the 20th century. This is expressed first and foremost in the extensive use of traditional operatic forms (arias, ariosos, tales and choruses) and recognisable features of drama and composition (with a division into two worlds – Russians and Highlanders). Yet in terms of genre Klinichev’s Bela belongs to no definitive “type” and is generally associated with romantic Russian operas of the former half of the 19th century (including plots from life in the Caucuses).
The libretto – written by the composer himself – entirely and in detail follows the plot of the novella (including fragments of the original text), and the only significant deviations come in the final scene of the opera. For the solo and choral parts Klinichev used several poems and parts of verse by Lermontov (such as the text of the prolonged and dance-like Cossack songs and Pechorin’s aria). Within the context of a broadly conceived three-act opera with choruses, Russian and oriental dances, two toast scenes and a wedding scene, naturally Lermontov’s characters could not remain as they were. On the one hand, they “come to life” (such as when the drunken Pechorin sings his couplets), while on the other they are transformed into true operatic characters. The transformation of Bela’s image is particularly striking: from a timorous young mountain girl of whose mental anguish the reader can only judge from the tales of Maxim Maximych she becomes a romantically-inclined young woman, closer to the heroines of Russian classical operas. The narrative is almost entirely substituted with direct stage action that is remarkable for its dynamism. In such conditions as these time is unavoidably constrained, as is the story of the love between Bela and Pechorin, though here we have the compensation of the music – openly emotional and aimed directly at the audience.
In his musical depiction of the Caucuses and its mountain-dwellers Klinichev boldly enters a combative dialogue with classical composers; there are folk scenes, there are the images of Azamat and Kazbich and in particular there are the dances that may be considered undoubted successes of the composer (one of these dance-like and sharply rhythmic themes may be heard in the brief orchestral introduction to the opera). On the whole, in the music of Bela the audience will find several vivid discoveries allowing them to see this opera as an interesting and original contribution to Russian operatic “music of the East”.