Smelkov The Brothers Karamazov, Mariinsky Theatre/ Gergiev, Barbican Hall

3.00

It’s a brave (or foolhardy) man who dares to make an opera of Dostoyevsky’s seminal novel The Brothers Karamazov.

Throughout the long first act of Alexander Smelkov and Yury Dimitrin’s adaptation for the Mariinsky Theatre the effect was a little like speed-reading it whilst under the influence. If you didn’t know the novel at all, the seemingly reckless dash of the narrative, the dislocation of characters and ideas, will have left you feeling marooned in the middle of some grand farce. To some extent, Dostoyevsky’s last novel is just that – the anatomy of a chaotic society and the human conditions driving it. But still I wonder if the composer and his librettist have got the balance right between the grimly ironic and the tragic?



Another problem with this opera is that it takes a novel of startling originality and reimagines it through music of startling unoriginality. Smelkov’s score is so full of allusions and borrowings that you begin to wonder where he comes into the picture. In the opening bars the weight of impending tragedy is conveyed in a leitmotif so redolent of Brahms’ First Symphony – in shape, scoring, and attitude – that the audience is not so much gripped by its power as bemused by its similarity. After a minute or so it’s morphing into something a lot like the start of the great passacaglia from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Beethoven’s Ninth is in there, too (repeatedly), while the central female figure of Grushenka (the glamorous Kristina Kapustinskaya) voices her romantic confusions by way of a soaring motif plundered from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. And so it goes on.



No one would dispute Smelkov’s compositional virtuosity, his skill and ingenuity with orchestral sonority, but because so much of this score sounds like second-hand Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky the immense passions embraced by the novel come across as oddly counterfeit in the opera. And when we do arrive at its emotional climax – an extraordinarily haunting nonet expressing the collective guilt of all its principal characters – there is suspicion that this too is somehow a parody of catharsis.



Needless to say, Dostoyevsky’s colourful gallery of characters – all Russian society is here – brings out the best in the Mariinsky ensemble with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of terrific and versatile voices. Valery Gergiev drives the proceedings with his customary urgency. But I’ve a feeling that is a local, not an international event.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'