Having its mission carved out well before the upside-down world we live in now, when virtual performances are the only means to link interpreters and audiences, the streaming platform OperaVision has diligently continued to expand its offerings. Every month it publishes new recordings from all corners of the repertoire, made available by an increasingly diverse list of opera houses. The most recent example was a rendition of Bellini’s Il pirata streamed (no subtitles until 1st February) from Moscow’s Novaya Opera. Saturday evening’s performance, in concert form, was part of an Epiphany Festival that the young Russian musical theatre dedicates annually to the memory of its founder, conductor Evgeny Kolobov.

Il pirata at Novaya Opera
© Novaya Opera

Il pirata, Bellini’s third opera and the first in a series of successful collaborations with librettist Felice Romani, was very well received at its 1827 premiere, but has only been performed irregularly since, despite some great singers embracing the main roles. Repeatedly adopted during the Romantic era, the libretto's baritone–soprano–tenor love triangle seems conventional today. As unmistakably proven by conductor Andrey Lebedev, the soloists and Novaya Opera orchestra and chorus, the score still sounds fresh to modern ears. Less ornate and not as full of fireworks as Rossini’s output, the score to Il pirata succeeds, in many instances, to express the inner desires and thoughts of the main characters. From the vivacious and luxurious whirlwind painted in the overture to the timpani tremolo following the soprano’s last exit, Lebedev handled the orchestra well, without exaggerating rubatos and always accounting for the singers’ need to breathe.

The overall singing was solid without being exceptional. The soloists handled better than the chorus the fusion of text and sound that any bel canto rendition is reliant upon. Tenor Dmitry Korchak sang the quasi-Byronic character Gualtiero, the nobleman who became a pirate. His voice was a tad strained in the cavatina “Nel furor delle tempeste”, but gradually opened up, reaching a peak of lyricism in a finely nuanced “Tu vedrai la sventurata”. As Imogene – Gualtiero’s love interest but now the wife of Duke Ernesto – soprano Irina Kostina was rarely capable of shaping the legato phrases that mark her many arias. From the moment Imogene describes to her companion Adele (soprano Victoria Shevtsova) a dream in which she saw Gualtiero killed by her husband (“Lo sognai ferito, esangue”) to the final lament of the now deranged heroine (“Col sorriso d'innocenza”), Kostina’s voice lacked flexibility. Her coloratura sounded rather dry, despite energetic renditions and accurate intonation. In the role of Duke Ernesto, Pavel Yankovsky was, with his not very distinguished baritone, the weakest link in the trio of main characters. In other minor parts, bass Vitaly Efanov was Goffredo, Gualtiero’s former tutor, and tenor Alexander Skvarko was Itulbo, the pirate’s lieutenant. All the voices gelled well together in the impressive, well-rehearsed sextet that ends the first act.

Dmitry Korchak and Irina Kostina
© Novaya Opera

Victoria Agarkova’s staging directions were minimal. Formally dressed, the soloists were planted in front of their microphones. Acting was reduced to several hand gestures. Agarkova surrounded the stage with three huge screens showing animated cartoons inspired by the libretto’s Sicilian setting. Sometimes humorously contrasting with the stern atmosphere at the spectators’ eye level, the mostly symmetrical images depicted a boat navigating a tempestuous sea and views of the plot's Caldora Castle and its environs. Extending the marine references, the huge prompter's cage appeared to be modelled in the shape of a St Jacob’s shell. There was not a lot of inventiveness displayed in the filming of the performance, close-ups of the often expressionless soloists’ faces alternating with images of the entire stage (truncated though the screens). The conductor and the instrumentalists were barely shown after the overture. At least during the preamble to Imogene’s delirium scene, one would have expected to see images from the open pit, illustrating the superb dialogue between the cor anglais and harp, instead of admiring the soprano sitting at the bottom of the choral risers.

At the beginning of the pictorial narrative, obtrusively drawn hands with long fingers – reminiscent of Michelangelo’s “Hand of God” giving life to Adam – it seemed to reiterate the act of Creation, rearranging on the screens the Sun and the Moon, the fish and the birds. At the very end, with her final gesture, Imogene points to the reappeared hand in the background, thus (ironically?) reminding everyone that opera characters’ fate is as well subject to their creator’s authority.

This performance was reviewed from OperaVision's video stream