Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
July 25, 2005
Entertainment Wire

By Sahan Arzruni


Moscow's famed Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra is touring the United
States in July and August, appearing at the Met Opera during the first
two-weeks of their engagement.  Aram Khachaturian's Spartacus is one
of the four spectacles presented in New York City, to be followed by
performances in Wolf Trap, VA and Orange County, CA.

"Spartacus" remains one of Bolshoi's popular favorites, both in Russia
and abroad.  Although during its 1975 tour, Bolshoi presented excerpts
of the ballet at Lincoln Center; the present performance is the
premiere of the entire score in New York.

Khachaturian composed the music between 1951 and 1954 in Staraya Ruza,
a retreat outside of Moscow.  The work was premiered at the Kirov
Theatre in Leningrad in 1956, staged by Leonid Yakobson.
Khachaturian, who was severely reprimanded in 1948 for "formalistic
tendencies" in his music, was awarded the Lenin Prize for the score
and thus restored to his previous place in the Soviet cultural

However, it was not until 1968 that Spartacus acquired its ultimate
shape, when Yuri Grigorovich, then a young choreographer originally
with the Kirov Theatre, re-staged the ballet in Moscow.  Khachaturian
revised his score, and this new version has been acclaimed by
international critics, including Clive Barnes of the New York Times.

A recent performance in New York (July 22, 2005) did have its great
moments.  The hallmarks of Bolshoi -- the grandeur, the expressive
flow of movement, the expansive gestures -- were all there; yet the
company seemed to be in a transitory path, not quite sure of its final
destination, or generally, its general direction.  There were a number
of uncomfortable technical moments and a few shaky ensemble pieces.
There were some imaginative photo-op scenes that were spectacular,
especially that of the crucifixion and those at the end of each of the
three acts.  The lighting design was also highly effective.

Many New Yorkers, however, who are spoiled by lavish productions on
Broadway or at the Met, I am sure, were disappointed by the
impecunious stage settings.  The Bolshoi Orchestra, under the
direction of Pavel Sorokin, was pale in sound, tired in delivery and
flaccid in animating spirit.  Still, Yuri Klevtsov, in the role of
Spartacus; Alexander Volchkov, as Crassus; and Anna Antonicheva, as
Spartacus' beloved performed with masterful conviction.

The epic story, set around 74 to 71 BC, concerns the fate of
Spartacus, a rebel slave, who leads a revolt against his Roman
captors, only to be betrayed by a number of his followers and brought
down.  Khachaturian conceived his ballet as an ideological message.
He writes, "I thought of Spartacus as a monumental fresco describing
the mighty avalanche of the antique rebellion of slaves on behalf of
human rights...  Today, when many of the world's oppressed people are
waging an intense struggle for national liberation and independence,
the immortal image of Spartacus has acquired particular significance."

Sound familiar?

Sahan Arzruni is a concert pianist and an ethnomusicologist. He has
toured China and Vietnam, performing and giving master classes, and
has delivered a series of lectures on Arshak II at the request of the
San Francisco Opera Guild.
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