Staging the opera

World premiere of the opera Vita Nova by Vladimir Martynov

Form of solutions of the set goals:

  • Joint production, co-production with well known opera house
  • Inclusion of the production in the European festival program Target audience: music scholars, art experts, mass media representatives, music critics, sophisticated and prepared theater goers, youth 18 to 25 years old, people with higher education and “intelligent” occupation, modern art aficionados.

Useful results of project realization for the society:

  • International project with acquiring of foreign participants, lead singers, orchestra, consultants on modern music and modern theatre, director.
  • Integration in the world culture process.
  • Creation of new jobs.
  • Creation of administrative stuff, development of Russian management situation.
  • Development of qualification and competence of specialists participating in production.
  • Test of a marketing instrument new for Russian reality – creative crowdfunding (based on planeta.ru website which is a Russian Kickstarter for creative persons) and reaching global level.
  • Getting the attention of both Russian and foreign media.
  • Acquiring of both Russian and foreign investors.

Conclusion on the useful results of the second objective realization for society:
creation of new musical and theatric product ready for export, promotion of modern Russian opera, development of Russian musical theatre.

Concept of the opera production

The desire of total novelty seen in composers of the second half of XX century and up to the present lead to formation of the new direction that may conveniently be called “forward to the past”. However the tendency does not look like anything like the neoclassicism of the beginning of the XX century, it is not just playing around with baroque or classic forms and styles of ages past, but search for the ways to restore spiritual values, to restore the true music. One of the first Russian composers to come to this idea is Vladimir Martynov. According to Martynov, after theory and history of music, musical sociology a musician shall study the music anthropology, and then turn to self actualization.

Vladimir Martynov is the most prominent modern Russian composer who is rightfully considered one of the most influential creators of our age, musical thinker who teaches the fundamental course of musical anthropology at the philosophy faculty of the Moscow State University, author of musical and literature bestsellers, musical historian and theoretic, inspired pianist awarded with Russia State Award. He is an author of the scandalous theory of the “end of time of composers” which several years ago split the musical society in half in two opposing sites. In the book aptly called The End of the Time of Composers Martynov proves that composers are not essential for the music. Up until the Medieval times the European music was without composers, and the occupation was totally unknown in non-European cultures. The composers will disappear just like they appeared – states Vladimir. He also created the new artistic chronology according to which we all live in the Opus Post era, in the zone of post-composer reality. However, while declaring loudly “the end of the time of composers”, Martynov nevertheless sees the solution in the movement towards vita nova — the new life of music. And the piece that ideally showcased the way to the future was the Martynov’s opera symbolically named the Vita Nova.

Presently the composers restlessly search for the ways of opera existence in the modern situation, in conditions of cinema and musichall existence. The very existence of the modern opera sets the questions: what is the opera genre today and whether the operas where the music is just a highlight for dramatic text are needed. The Vita Nova is one of the attempts to get to the future, to create something new and time-relevant.

Vladimir Martynov: The classic opera as we know it is practically dead. Our only chance to create something interesting starts from the recognition of this fact. And then we have to choose the direction. Whatever we do may be called the post-modernist reflection of the opera age past. A certain game is elated to it. And talking about our differences, I feel myself not a musician but investigator or renovator. I’m interested in making the opera with all the elements interesting to general public. And at the same time make all the beauties of the opera serve the ritual meditative principles. The opera appeared from mysteries and divine services. I’d like to return it to its roots again.

The prehistory goes like that: The main theaters of the country, Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatre, in 2002 under the initiative of producer Eduard Boyakov for the first time in the last thirty years decided to return to good old system of ordering the piece to a modern composer. That gave start to the impressive project within which the Bolshoi ordered the opera of the Saint Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov with libretto by Vladimir Sorokin directed by Eimuntas Nekrosius (the exchange tour was planned following this). Mariinsky Theatre, in its turn, ordered the opera to a Moscow resident Vladimir Martynov, which was not premiered due to the refusal of one of the parties involved to participate, and probably because the Martynov’s piece was more artistically radical compared not only to Desyatnikov but also to the “scandalous” Sorokin. The project was realized only partially. As the result Valery Gergiev at the opening of his First Easter Festival conducted only the overture of the opera, in 2003 the first act was performed conducted by Andrei Petrenko. And finally, complete premiere of Vita Nuova concert performance was staged at the London Royal Festival Hall on February 18, 2009 conducted by the great modern conductor Vladimir Jurowski (head conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007) and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Main performers were soprano Tatiana Monogarova (Beatrice) and tenor Mark Padmore (Dante). After London the opera was performed at the New York Lincoln Center. Only the echo of heroics and scandal in the furious reviews of the musical critics reached Russia. By the way the New York performance was more successful and the public warmly greeted the piece by the Russian minimalist.

Vladimir Martynov: Nowadays it is impossible to create the opera since clear open writing of the opera is possible only on the topic of impossibility to writhe the opera. There was once a period of history when the opera was unifying force. The audience identified themselves at the operas by Verdi and Wagner; they understood that they are Italians or Germans. Now this is not happening in the opera anymore.

Vladimir Martynov spent a lot of time looking for the plot until he found the La Vita Nuova, a collection of verses by one of the founders of literature Italian Dante Alighieri, which is not well-known to the general public. This collection of love sonnets is one of the earliest works of literature written in Italy in Italian (and not in Latin). It was La Vita Nuova that aided in codification of Tuscan dialect.

Vladimir Martynov: I think that Dante created absolutely post-modernist work. Vita Nova is the text on text. Dante falls in love with Beatrice, tells how he created each sonnet, gives the text of sonnet and then reviews it. He explains why he writes about love. And then he makes Amor, love, one of the characters. This work by Dante ideally suits to my idea. I’m not satisfied with the fact that opera by any composer – from Monteverdi to Wagner and Verdi – links the music to the text and expresses the feeling of the heroes. I want to break this connection; I try to find the new existence for the opera.

The opera libretto is written in Russian, Italian and Latin. The co-author of Vladimir Martynov on part of libretto was the theatre producer and director, director of the Practica theatre Eduard Boyakov.

Eduard Boyakov: Vita Nuova as a product is a phenomenal, post-modern from the modern point of view, metatext, probably multimedia. Because it is not just some different genre stylistic spaces, it really involves different anthropologic, artistic practices.

The opera involves several music styles: Gregorian chant, opera language, typical for the XIX century Romanticism, as well as the musical avant-garde style. Literally, from Perotin to Schoenberg. Those styles share rather complicated relation and the opera plays with music parallel to playing with space. The director’s script rigidly regulates every action. In some fragments the singers are on the stage, in other they come down to the audience. In some episodes their location on the stage reproduces the art by Botticelli to the Divine Comedy. The composer did to disconnect each of the opera lines – text, music and misenscenes – from each other. They develop independently. And at the same time there are certain structural parallels between music, text and action. It makes it possible to change the traditional idea of opera, putting it into wider cultural context.

Vladimir Martynov: Vita Nova is the opera on history of opera as the most important genre of the European culture.

Vita Nova is a synthetic mysterial work which can’t be limited to any of the styles present in it. It’s sort of a double-bottom opera. And at the same time its external structure is absolutely serious: three acts, orchestra, arias, choirs, script. The plot of the opera is the simplest possible – failed love. However the composer wanted to show how refused love lets the hero to learn something more that he was capable of understanding at all.

The opera text has three layers, three existence levels, each of which is shown by its own linguistic or musical language: the modern spoken Russian or English (depending on the country of the performance) shows the everyday life, Dante’s sonnets are reproduced in Italian and the liturgy plane area – in Latin. Thus the text of the opera uses the intellectual memory of the whole humanity.

Gerard Macberni (English music scholar): Dante is the deepest traditions of catolicism, it is a Catholic event, and not also Catholic, but humanistic. It is a person who lived in Italy at the start of humanism as a new return. And his poem Vita Nuova contains certain deep meditation on religion and humanity topics.

This spring non-profit cultural institution Gallery System headed by Katherine Holm organized the interesting series of lectures on the concerts with Vladimir Martynov named Vita Nuova. It included seven lectures-meetings with this musician and thinker during which Martynov demonstrated the new approach to bridging the distance between modern academic music and public. Just like the artful gardener in his garden, Martynov carefully prepared the ground for understanding his creations using the interesting stories from the history of arts. Together with Tatiana Grindenko and Opus Posth group he treated his audience with the masterful performance of not only his own works but also Xenakus, Glass, Cage, creating necessary cultural context and granting the listeners the priceless experience.

The magisterial purpose of the meetings initially was the staging of Martynov’s opera Vita Nova. For this purpose a new marketing instrument of crowdfunding was used for the first time in history of modern academic music. We talk about acquiring live money for realization of future project. The example of the Vita Nova cycle showed that the most effective approach is the direct contact with audience. However in the result the meetings with Martynov and his music created not only financial platform for the opera staging, but also formed a close circle of adepts and admirers of his art.

The platform chosen for crowdfunding was Planeta.ru. The website was launched in 2012 for the financing of musical projects. Planeta.ru which already successfully functions and acquires the funds to projects, in August 2012 started the funding of production of Vladimir Martynov’s Vita Nova conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

Recently the Russian realities showed the process of modern opera coming outside the state theatres. Opera sounds on independent, alternative stages. This stage is what shall be used for the Vladimir Martynov’s opera to highlight the mystery of the work, destroy the borders between stage and public and create certain homogenous space of the participants and audience.

Dmitri Kourliandski (composer): From the composer’s point of view the situation with opera does not seem too dull. However, when looking at modern music in general we note that whatever happens in this area is the result of activity by the composers themselves who are interested in their promotion. There is no state support. Probably it is because there is certain distrust to the modern music in Russia. From 1930ies to 1980ies the music was a tool for ideological machine. Then the function of the modern music became unclear. However there was the clear understanding that a function shall exist. This is a problem with the modern art. There is a persistent opinion on the level of state structures, concert halls and philharmonics that this music won’t be understood. They decide everything for the public. In my opinion the modern composers need to shift their point of view from wide audience, making it wide not in quantitative sense, but in qualitative, by orienting on large-minded audience.

The production of modern opera often presumes the use of certain apparatus, i.e. special groups are invited for the performance of the opera product that may, for example, be staged in theaters from Paris to Madrid. For example, Klangforum Wien or Opus Posth – one of the groups most used in this process. The process started to form back in Schoenberg times, when the accents started to shift gradually from orchestra to smaller ensembles, which was related to the greater differentiation of the material. Thus the tendency appeared to decrease the number of performance. It is related mostly not to budget but to artistic objectives. The other side of issue is creation of special space for the performances. For example, Gerard Mortier, current opera director of Madrid Royal Theater, said “I need another space for this opera since the sound shall go differently.” Lorenzo Piano built multistory composition where the orchestra sat not only around the public but also above it. Due to specific artistic goals set by the composer, the need for specific space arises. It is important to start the cooperation between all the sections of opera process as early as possible. The ideal picture involves the use of actively established institutions and invited musicians that may motivate the others with their fresh look on the script.

At the present time we have the following assets for the performance: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Opus Posth group led by Tatiana Grindenko, composer Vladimir Martynov and his opera script.

Having and bearing the difficult heritage of the Soviet period, the modern Russian culture has not yet get a possibility to go through the process of renewal and modernization in order to comply with the global level. In this context the modern Russian is rather a backward country than a leading one. At the same time Russia has the main condition for the development of its culture, which gives hope for the elevation of the cultural level. This condition is our поднятие modernly thinking Russian composers, musicians, artists, who strive for a wide scope of activities and creative work.

At the moment Russia does not have a state culture policy, which makes great moral damage to its international image, as well as the credit rating of the country, as in the modern world the reputation of a state directly depends on its contribution into the common cultural space. (Fro example: Expenses for the support of culture constitute 0.8 % of the GDP, but people, whose work is connected with art and culture, constitute 90% of famous people.)

The absence of the systematic support of culture renders a very negative influence on the moral state of the Russian people themselves, as traditionally culture is the basis of the identity of a Russian man. The devaluation of cultural values led to the expansion of xenophobia, racism, intolerance and accumulation of destructive energy. It is humanistic culture and not a military doctrine which can and must become a fundament of the national idea in Russia.

The unwillingness of the state to make culture a priority direction of its activities comes from the total misunderstanding of its role in the modern postindustrial society. Making decisions is usually influenced by two stereotypes with regard to this very important social sphere:

  1. The Soviet tradition: The culture is subordinate to the ideology. This leads to the constant politicization of the tradition and modern art. The Ministry of Culture supports only conservative, traditional culture (classical ballet, classical music, ensembles of folk singing and dancing, etc.), mistakingly considering this culture as nationwide, and does not take any care of the support of new directions in the art, habitually associating them with ‘nonconformity’ by analogy with the underground art.

  2. Post-Soviet, technocratic position: Culture is either a luxury item or the industry of entertainment, which produces commercial products, therefore the state funds the culture residually, relying on the market. The association of culture with the service sector and/or sector of national economy, simplified commercialization of cultural institutes leads to the degradation of the whole cultural sphere.

Against this background it is even more important to remember about the sprouts of new non-standard composer’s and performance thinking which are obviously present in Russia. The most efficient basis for development is the recent appearing possibility to study in the Western Europe and America and to familiarize with the leading world traditions. Nevertheless, composers and musician under this conditions preserve their originality and character, in the majority of cases do not disappear in the common world cultural mass and bring the acquired experience and knowledge into the Russian conditions. The creative people have a desire to restore the cultural strength of Russia with the careful return to the sources of the pre-revolutionary cultural tradition and best traditions of the Soviet Russia.

If earlier any non-standard direction in the Russian musical world were concealed, nowadays, though it is still necessary to overcome certain barriers, there is a possibility to hear during official concerts the works of modern Russian composers, as well as the new generation of the Russian performers, who are inclined towards original concepts, enriched with the acquired experience, and who are not afraid of interpreting and performing the music of the actual western composers in their own manner. There is a possibility to talk about the real prospects of the development of this very area.

A potentially huge demand for culture on the side of the society is not supported by the offer (the above mentioned negative state position). The project, initiated some years ago by Oleg Chirkunov, the governor of the Perm Krai, and his team and called ‘Perm is a cultural capital of Europe’ is rather an exception than a general practice. As this event is not usual for the Russian society, it is still not clearly understood and not accepted by both the local inhabitants of Perm and the new administration of the krai.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of the country population lives so far from the cultural oases, that it doesn’t have any possibility to become familiar with culture. The underdevelopment of the regional cultural network and absence of the minimum support makes local talented people to go to the capital or to leave the country in the search for self-realisation. This results in the overconcentration of all the prospective cultural initiatives and institutions in 1-2 centres along with the intellectual hunger of the whole country.

One of the main barriers to the development of the creative initiatives in Russia is the imperfection of the legislation (especially Federal laws No. 83 and 94).

Law No. 83 demonstrates the deliberate intention of the state to shun the responsibility for culture and cultural heritage. The misunderstanding of the fact that it is not easy to apply ROB (result-oriented budgeting) in culture, as the budgeting is not directly connected with creative work and constitutes its delayed result. The conceptual mistake of these laws is in the fact that they consider the sphere of culture as manufacturing products and rendering services (bakery and laundry), while the main product of culture is the creation of the social well-being. It is difficult to change and bring through tender procedures (law 94).

The country has only the programmes of private culture support funds, but in the majority of cases these corporate funds support only traditional directions.

International programmes, applicable in Russia – The Ford Foundation, the Foundation … Bilateral Russian-American Presidential Commission:
Goethe Institute
Maestro Temirkanov International Foundation for Cultural Initiatives:

Are there any professional associations, which deal with the protection of rights and interests of cultural workers? Have any investigations of the modern audience’s requirements been conducted?

Only the union of artists and the union of composers – v They do not protect the rights of cultural workers.

Fro example, for the purpose of self-financing a composer has to deal with applied work such as editorial work, writing music for movies, etc., this also makes it possible to support his ‘fundamental science’, i.e. his creative work.

The paradox of the current situation is in the fact that professionals mainly deal with artistic expression, while the genius deals with social changes. Nowadays we do not meet objections due to the imperfection of the works as the cultural workers look for the intensity of expression and not for perfection. In this context imperfect objects are competitive.

The absence of the system of authorities in the modern culture leads to the increased attention to the sphere of publicity. It is clear as it is the sphere of publicity where these authorities are created. This situation can be clarified in the following way. The sphere of publicity, i.e. places of public interaction, is important in such situations when there is a break in succession, when it is impossible to transfer directly from the teacher to the pupil. This is one of the signs of a transition period.

The modern Russian culture lacks the efficient system of examples, as there is no new established system of authorities. This leads to a provocative situation in the domestic culture: If there are no examples the sphere of publicity becomes self-sufficient and the evaluation of the results of creative work become politicized.

The culture, where the system of authorities is directed towards the figure of a genius, will always appreciate not only an artistic solution but also the called overartistic excessiveness of work: Its political component, and will consider this work as a political gesture. At the same time the system of professional authorities is directed towards the self-sufficiency of the sphere of an artistic gesture. Considering the fact that every gesture is something significant and the modern culture appreciates the creation of new significant works, we can differentiate between creative societies with the culture of a political gesture and creative societies, directed towards the artistic gesture itself. On the basis of this we can see the difference between the cultures of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.

Of course in Moscow, which is the financial centre of the country, there are many professional specialists and in Saint-Petersburg, a city with traditions of non-official culture, there are many genii, but the direction of the cultural processes is different in these cities.

In Saint-Petersburg a genius traditionally was a misfit and in Moscow a genius can be in the centre and have chances, as in Moscow the artistic life is highly politicized.

In Moscow every artistic act usually has some excessive quality, specified as a political quality. In Moscow it is not enough to be simply an artists, it is also necessary to express a political opinion. Here the political aspect is a result of excessive ideology, i.e. every statement of a person is considered to be not only a statement with regard to a certain situation, but also a certain prophesy. The Moscow system of authorities has been greatly influenced by policy, therefore artistic authorities here are politicized.

It is enough to compare the theatres of these two cities and we will see that in Moscow there is split in the repertory company with regard to political beliefs, which is a typical situation, while no repertory company has ever had a split for this reason in Saint-Petersburg.

WE can say that the culture of Moscow is a culture of a political gesture. The last results of such ceremonies as Nika, Kinotavr and Zolotaya Maska make it possible to say that Moscow is going through a significant creative crisis as the professional societies of Moscow have lost their sources of energy, as in their creative work they are often guided by political orientation. The ‘Vita Nova’ cultural concept is based on the Art-Nova concept, a cultural movement, established in Europe in the 14th century, which led to a succession of revolutions in the musical and figurative arts.

The aims of the new cultural movement called ‘Vita Nova’ are

  1. To overcome the state of post-modern. Main the characteristic feature of post-modern is unbelief in meta-notation and ‘Great Stories’. The ‘Vita Nova’ concept overcomes the skepticism by the self-realization of a New Great Artists and Great Work and creates conditions for their development.
  2. The creation of a new space for music and art by combining traditions and innovations.
    In the era of ‘modern’ traditions and innovations were in the state of antagonism. If innovations rejected traditions, it led to a revolution, if traditions suppressed innovations, it led to a counter-revolution. In the era of ‘post-modern’ traditions and innovations simulated each other, which led to the deliberated devastation of livelong senses and emasculation of the senses of life in general.
    The development of new cultural movement of the 21st century called ‘Vita Nova’ is achieved through the new combination of traditions and innovations and parallel development of different spheres of the art in the common space.
  3. The establishment of favourable legislative and economic conditions for the development of a new cultural space of ‘Vita Nova’ on the Russian territory.
  4. The establishment and development of the international professional platform of the new ‘Vita Nova’ cultural space for the transfer of knowledge, exchanges of experience and best practice among the cultural workers of the new space.
  5. The improvement of qualification of the participants of professional platform in efficient management and promotion of the products of new cultural space.

    Measures and results:
    Task 1.The establishment of favourable legislative and economic conditions for the development of a new cultural space of ‘Vita Nova’ on the Russian territory.
    Task 2. The establishment and development of the international professional platform of the new ‘Vita Nova’ cultural space for the transfer of knowledge, exchanges of experience and best practice among the cultural workers of the new space.
    Task 3. The improvement of qualification of the participants of professional platform in efficient management and promotion of the products of new cultural space.