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Mouths to feed

RODERIC DUNNETT looks at the touring tradition of Chisinau National Opera and talks to Mihai Cocieru, the company's newly-promoted General Director


Although the Chisinau Opera House dates back less than fifty years, to the 1950s (Leonid Brezhnev was Communist Party secretary of the war-ravaged Moldavian SSR), Moldova's capital has enjoyed quality opera for a hundred seasons, since before Russian Communism took a hold. Caruso and Chaliapin appeared there; soprano Maria Cebotari, soon to be operatic heroine of Bucharest, Vienna and Salzburg, was born there. Her name is still commemorated in a Chisinau streetname.

Chisinau Opera House
Chisinau Opera House

Certainly one of Europe's smallest countries, and in economic terms its poorest, despite wine cellars that were once the pride of the Soviet Union and its rich, vegetable-producing black earth, Moldova still produces great opera singers. Nowadays it hails names like Oxana Cobzeva, Elena Gherman and Petru Racovita. Its most celebrated living performer -- she still appears there in concert to packed seats -- is soprano Maria Biesu, who first trod the boards there in the 1950s, and to this day organises the opera festival in her home town of Balti (pronounced Baltsi).

Justly celebrated for her Butterfly, Mimi, Tosca, Liu and Norma, Biesu was often partnered by another outstanding performer of this former Soviet republic's operatic stage, the tenor Mihai Munteanu, who has been singing Cavaradossi almost as long as Pavarotti, and whose Canio (in Pagliacci), Samson and most recently, Otello -- a role he first sang as recently as 1998 (his Domingo-like acting presence will have helped greatly) -- still mesmerise, even when the voice -- though not the energy -- of this performer, whom German critics once dubbed a 'tiger' (his unforgettably terrifying Canio was exactly that) has shed some of its youthful fervour.

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Copyright © 5 September 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Bath, UK


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