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It is pure gain to us pampered westerners that Russian finances are so parlous Valery Gergiev not only brings himself to our orchestras as often as possible, but for this joyous performance has transported not only the Mariinsky Orchestra to Paris but also an enchanting cast of young Russian singers from the Academy of the Mariinsky Theatre. If the French insist Gergiev not only wears a silly hat throughout but conducts behind the stage, it matters not a jot. This is team work of the highest order, and ensemble is impeccable. The Soviet Union had a splendid record in musical performance, despite straitened circumstances; the standards are worthily maintained.

The hat box is passed across the audience to the stage. Screenshot © 2005 Théâtre musical de Paris, Châtelet, and François Roussillon Associés
The hat box is passed across the audience to the stage. Screenshot © 2005 Théâtre musical de Paris, Châtelet, and François Roussillon Associés

As stage director, Alain Maratrat is inventively tireless, not hesitating to involve the audience in ways the English would certainly find embarrassing. If a hat-box essential to the plot lands in an unsuspecting lap, it gets to the stage eventually. We start with Anastasia Belyaeva's Madama Cortese urging her staff to oblige the hotel guests in every possible way [watch and listen -- chapter 4, 13:10-15:07]. A main factor in not getting to Reims is the non-arrival of luggage. But the frustration of Larissa Youdina as the flighty Contessa di Folleville is triumphantly ended when a saucy hat is finally perched on her head [watch and listen -- chapter 9, 29:50-30:54].

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Copyright © 28 August 2007 Robert Anderson, London UK

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