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Elena Frolova  

singer, musician, music reviewer, Russia

Elena Frolova, 1999

Review: A Venetian Barge under a Siberian Sky -an opera by Andriano Banchieri

Translated and summarized by Sasha Radin,
The Netherlands.

The Novosibirsk International Christmas Festival of the Arts always entices lovers of music. This time it began with a collection of musicians and minstrels from the ensembles "Insula Magica" and "Martellovy Golosa" singing to the crowd outside. After 20 minutes of performance, the actors in medival guise invited everyone to come into the philharmonic hall and to settle more comfortably. It's hard to say which was more colorful -the highly theatrical opening or the late arrival of the guest harpsichordist from France.

The 'Barca de Venetia per Padova’ (Barge from Venice in Padua / decline' -pun on the last word), was written by Adriano Banchieri in the genre of Italian madrigal comedy. Choral composition based on a comical song is typical of the madrigal. In the subject matter of this piece, of everyday life in Venetian times, partly grotesque, partly satirical, laced with touches of folk comedy, Banchieri took from the heart of tradition. There were the rehearsals of the 'beginner singers' and the skits in which gentlewomen and cavaliers sing about each other's beauty or the beginning scene where everything seems as if it would fall apart with a real fight in a barge.

Banneri masterfully combines numerous theatrical scenes (19 in all) through the genre of the madrigal. The whole piece was interspersed with music by F. Caroso and the composer Banchieri himself, where the acts included pantomime and dance. The 'Barge' is its own world with its own characters, personas, their temperaments and perceptions of things and situations. It is if you like, a miniature, 'Decamaron' with colourful characters such as the boatman (Ilja Decamaron), the oratio (Aleksandr Baev), the chorus director (Igor' Tiovaev) and others.

The costume designer, Elena Velizhanina, added more color and freshness to the production. She both designed and made all the costumes for this second project with the ensemble, "Insula Magica". The first project was the puppet performance, 'The Play of Daniel'.

According to the director of 'Insula Magica', Arkadij Bourkhanov, the intention of the piece didn't really work as intended because 'Barca' (Barge) used Italian slang in a distinctive way, and so some of the word combinations were not clear for the audience.

'Barca' also deviated from the genre. For example in breaking with tradition where the roles should be filled by actors while the musicians stood behind the screen only producing the music. Here musicians were also actors.

We must give the musicians their due who have made 'theatre in theatre' in their own way. Afterall each one of us felt as if we were a participant in the performance. "Homo ludens om", (humans at play) if you will. The roots of the production come from the distant (400 year old) past, but as shown, the ways are influenced by a contemporary urban audience, and the 'sold out' sign in the hall was the best indicator of all.Arts Dialogue, October 2000, page 2

During the performance of 'Barca'. The lute player in the foreground is Arkadij Bourkhanov.

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands