Galina Gorchakova in Toronto

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Originally scheduled for February 8th and
postponed due to illness, Galina Gorchakova finally showed up to
make her long-awaited Toronto debut this evening in Roy Thomson
Hall, before an enthusiastic audience.


Wearing a black
velvet gown with bouffant sleeves, tight bodice and a flowery lace
skirt on top, and with her black hair pulled tightly back in a bun,
her alabaster skin adorned with extravagant but tasteful jewellery,
the only word one can use to describe her appearance is “stunning”.
There is a slightly old-fashioned air to her “look”, as if she had
just been transported to a musical salon in the 1890’s Vienna. Her
spontaneous smile and warm stage presence was very much in evidence
right from the beginning, and at the end of the first group, she had
the audience eating out of her hand.


In an era of
small voices electronically enhanced and cleverly promoted, or
sopranos who scream more than they sing the higher they go,
Gorchakova is a phenomenon. The middle voice and mezza voce are
unremarkable, but at the top of the staff, her volume can pin you to
your seat, as she did tonight on several occasions. The huge top
voice is of heroic proportions, yet without the often inevitable
edge. She is also very musical and communicative. It is small wonder
that she is in great demand everywhere. However, I feel that on this
particular evening, she was not in top form, with the lower middle
(e, f and g above middle c) weak, without resonance, and even raspy
at times. She tried hard not to push there, and occasionally she had
to resort to chest tones to make it audible. Perhaps she was under
the weather, and her declining to receive well wishers in the green
room afterwards would support that theory. (I believe she is the
broadcast Tatiana this Saturday – it would be interesting to see if
she sounds the same.)


She sang songs
by Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev in the first
half, closing with the Letter Scene from Onegin. The second half was
devoted to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff songs, closing with Vissi
d’arte. Despite some beautiful singing in the Russian songs, the
programme is problematic. There was too much “sameness” to it –
every song is slow and sad. Ideal song recital should have more
variety, some fast, some slow, with change of mood, showing the
audience what the singer can do. A whole evening of slow, sad,
introspective Russian songs, however haunting, gives the recital a
certain “sick room atmosphere”! Even though the audience was
extremely affectionate to her ( and she seemed genuinely surprised
and pleased), she sang only two encores – Tu tu piccolo Iddio from
Butterfly and Ebben ne andro lontana from La Wally. Her accompanist
was Larissa Gergieva, whose playing can best be termed uneven. At
times (as in the Rachmaninoff) she was very fine. But her Letter
Scene was IMHO like a rehearsal run-through – she played as if she
thoroughly hated the piece. She offered no support what-so-ever to
Gorchakova. In a few spots where the pianist is supposed to show her
skill, she really wasn’t up to the challenge.


Even with
Gorchakova below her best, the voice is thrilling, as the top rang
out impressively. There is no hint of the dreaded Slavic wobble. Her
acting is dramatic without being kitschy and her stage personality
is altogether beguiling. Perhaps it is a bit unfair, but I can’t
help comparing her to Marina Mescheriakova, the current darling of
the Toronto opera world. They have rather similar voices, with
Gorchakova more of a dramatic soprano while MM is more spinto. But
Mescheriakova has an exquisite high pianissimi, a much stronger
middle voice, and volume that is only marginally smaller. Together
with Elena Prokina and Maria Guleghina, the Russians are a force to
reckon with, and we in the West are richer for it.


Joseph So is professor of Anthropology at
Trent University


…And Gorchakova in New
York


Gorchakova’s recital in the Art of the Song
series at Lincoln Center March 23 took place between two
performances as Tatiana in the Met’s current Onegin. Changes to her
recital were announced from the stage: the Letter Scene from Onegin
was dropped without explanation. Seven extra songs by the scheduled
composers (Glinka, Balakirev, Rimsky, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and
Dargomyzhsky) would be offered instead. The loss of the Letter Scene
was serious, even for people like me who had already been to Onegin,
because her Letter Scene at the Met was completely drowned out by
the orchestra. A whole program of Russian songs especially the
unrelentingly plangent and monotonous one’s we heard this afternoon,
tested my patience. Only Gorchakova’s “Vissi d’Arte”, and her encore
“Tu, tu, piccolo idio” gave us a hint of what makes this donna
prima. But two arias are not enough, and one went away feeling
unsatisfied.

Philip Anson


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About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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