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Alan Buribayev: Letters from Italy

25 December 2019 13:30

NUR-SULTAN. KAZINFORM On January 6, the Astana Opera will present a new unique project of the opera house’s Principal Conductor the Honoured Worker of Kazakhstan, laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan Alan Buribayev.

The opera and symphony concert Letters from Italy will tell the stories of great composers through the letters that they wrote during their stay in an amazing country – Italy, the Astana Opera’s press service reports.

The concert program will feature opera and symphonic works by Russian and Western European classical composers performed by Principal Soloists – Honoured Workers of Kazakhstan Saltanat Akhmetova, Medet Chotabayev, Honoured Artist of Bashkortostan Alfiya Karimova and the Astana Opera Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Alan Buribayev.

A project such as Letters from Italy will be presented for the first time not only in Kazakhstan, but also in the world, how did you come up with the idea of this unusual concert?

Throughout my creative life, I always carefully study biographical and historical material when preparing all the works that I perform. It is very interesting that each of the great composers of past eras has a colossal epistolary heritage. The art of writing letters, and I focus here on the word ‘art’, is exactly what people really appreciated and treated as an unusually precious skill. In the era before emails and text messages, each letter was like a small work of art with its own canons. The best examples of letters can belong to a separate genre of literature. I know this from my own family, as my great-grandfather Akhmet Zhubanov was a thorough person and never wrote just a single copy of any letter. He did this on a typewriter, and we still preserve at our place his letters to my ata (grandfather) Bulat to Moscow and to his daughter Gaziza. He always typed two copies of the same letter, keeping one copy for himself. At that time, people were very respectful of such a simple thing – writing letters.

I like to preface my concerts with opening remarks, but when reading ‘tons’ of correspondence of great composers with their publishers, friends, family members, and critics, it shows, first of all, the composer’s character, personality, a hint of which is then can be seen in the score and in music. You can also feel the spirit of the era and see how people wrote letters back then. Thus, the idea of ​​this concert was born precisely from the study of letters. I thought: why not make the composers tell a little about themselves, about that era, those works, that is, let them tell their stories not only through their music, but also in their own voice, which comes from the lines of the letters that have been preserved. And the unifying theme of all this was Italy.

Why exactly this country?

Because this is the country where art, as we understand it today, was born. Everyone loved Italy: great artists, composers, writers came to this beautiful land to draw inspiration. For example, we can read in Bizet’s letters that in a short time he learned a lot here. Or Tchaikovsky was inspired by the Roman Pinacoteca and the Sistine Chapel, but under the influence of these impressions of Italian works, he writes symphonic and opera masterpieces that have become a part of the golden fund of Russian classics. Italy is the cradle of art and inspiration for many completely different people. Some of them met, some did not, and they all have different impressions, but Italy leaves no one indifferent. In addition, Italy is a sunny country and I wanted to present something very warm and joyful to our listeners in January.

The epistolary genre is a closed genre. There are topics that may not be of interest to everyone. How did you select these letters?

Indeed, not every letter can be read in public. There are some things that are only for a specific addressee, some letters are extremely intimate, sometimes something does not need to be read at all. I was interested in people’s impressions of Italy. Our task is not to make a literary evening, but to let the letters shed light on the personality of the composer and for people to perceive the music through the prism of what was read and what they just heard.

Does Italy inspire you as a musician?

I got the idea for this upcoming concert when I once again visited Florence with my wife and son. We asked a friend to take us around and, instead of the city’s main attractions, show us Tchaikovsky’s house where he wrote The Queen of Spades. Our friend did not even know that they had such a place. For me, The Queen of Spades is not just a dear to my heart composition, but also the very first opera in which I made my debut as an opera conductor in 2003 at the Opéra National de Lyon in France. It was interesting to me why the composer created this great Russian opera while in Florence, surrounded by a different atmosphere, where the influence of the Medici family and all the famous Florentines, for example, Michelangelo, can be felt everywhere. Why was it here that Pyotr Ilyich wrote his ‘most Petersburg’ opera, his penultimate operatic masterpiece? It was a kind of impulse, inspiration. I began to think that all Italian art somehow united the creative people of that time. Why did people go to Italy for inspiration from Russia, and France, Austria? The journey is rather long, if traveled by the XIX century trains or carts. Moreover, I was interested in not only Italians in our concert; I would like to show the view of the country from the inside and outside. French composer Georges Bizet wrote that he fell in love with Rome, and after that he no longer liked Naples. Nevertheless, he finishes his letters to his mother saying that at night he dreams of Paris. Something similar happens with Tchaikovsky. While in Italy, he was keenly interested in what was happening in his homeland. At the same time, Gioachino Rossini, an Italian by birth, on the contrary, lived the second part of his life in Paris, although he could perfectly well live in his homeland, where he was one of the most famous people, simply a living classic. Little Mozart signs his letters twice – ‘Wolfgango in Germany’ and ‘Amedeo in Italy’. Two and a half centuries before the creation of the European Union, even then, Mozart apparently already felt like a European. These were people who were ahead of their time, even geographically to some extent. Then again, Italy excited them all, and they went there for inspiration.

The uniqueness of the upcoming evening also lies in the fact that you will perform an extremely rare work that is practically never played anywhere in the world today – ballet music from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Don Carlos, the original French version of 1867.

The Milanese version of 1884, written in Italian, which no longer features ballet, runs at the Astana Opera. The ballet music was written specifically for the French opera of 1867 for the premiere in Paris. Composers, who wrote operas for the Paris Opera or ‘La Grande Boutique’, as Verdi ironically called this famous opera house, simply had to write music for the ballet, and always in the second act. The huge scandal, which erupted when the German Richard Wagner brought his opera Tannhäuser to Paris, comes to mind: he refused to insert ballet in the second act, which the French took as brazen disregard. Today Don Carlos is staged everywhere in different versions, but absolutely everywhere in the world it runs without ballet. I wanted to perform ballet music from the 1867 version, not only to present the rare Verdi, but also because the ballet music itself has its own interesting story, which is associated with a unique and famous jewelry piece, the legendary pearl called La Peregrina (Pilgrim).

Tell us more about it.

The pearl La Peregrina is one of the largest pearls in the world, weighing more than 50 carats. Its history spans more than 400 years. After being found in Latin America, it was acquired by the Spanish king Philip II (one of the main characters of the opera Don Carlos), who elevated it to the rank of a Spanish Crown Jewel, and traditionally the Spanish queens posed with it in portraits. So it can be seen in the royal portraits by Rubens and Velázquez. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain, La Peregrina winds up in France, where during the Second Empire it is in the possession of Napoleon the Third and his wife Empress Eugenie and is a magnificent adornment of their jewelry collection. It was then that Verdi wrote Don Carlos and the imperial couple, surrounded by their court, attended the premiere of the opera in Paris, where during the obligatory ballet divertissement they watched the following story:

«On the Seabed, beautiful Pearls are guarded by jealous Waves. A young fisherman descends to the bottom in the hope of getting them, but the Lady of the Sea does not allow him to do this. Suddenly a young page appears and, on behalf of Philip II, orders him to get the most magnificent pearl worthy of his wife, the Queen of Spain. The Lady of the Sea concedes, and the fisherman obtains La Peregrina, the only worthy pearl, which is presented to Queen Elisabeth.»

However, in 1867, the allegory of the ballet was clear to the high-ranking listeners of the opera in Paris: the real pearl of the French court is Empress Eugenie herself, who was Spanish by origin, and who, incidentally, did not like Don Carlos at all, namely, how Verdi portrayed the Spaniards in the opera. As for La Peregrina itself, later it came from France to England. There, having changed several owners, it was presented on St. Valentine Day by Richard Burton to his wife, the famous Elizabeth Taylor, who even lost it later. The last time La Peregrina was seen at an auction in 2011.

I would like to emphasize that the performance of the ballet music La Peregrina from Verdi’s Don Carlos of 1867 is an extremely rare event in the world, so we will have an absolutely unique opportunity to hear it on January 6, 2020 at the Astana Opera. Incidentally, another wonderful piece, which we will also perform in this concert, echoes this number. It will be Leila’s aria from Georges Bizet’s opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles!

You often visit Italy, have you ever written letters from this country to your relatives, and will we hear one of them at this concert?

I was born when Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the USSR and I remember very well writing letters to my family and friends by hand. Later, when in the early 90s we purchased a fax machine, I wrote letters by hand, but sent them by fax. Perhaps musicians and musicologists of future generations will also study emails and text messages of present and future ‘Mozarts’ and ‘Tchaikovskys’. Well, today, again speaking allegorically, my letter is the entire concert Letters from Italy, which I will address to dear listeners on January 6, 2020 at the Astana Opera.

Keywords: Culture, Nur-Sultan,