Is opera a total art? To mark the new Ivo van Hove’s production of Boris Godunov at the Opéra Bastille and to find out if that definition, which arose out of German romanticism, is still relevant today, Alexandre Lacroix —writer and managing editor of Philosophie Magazine— set out to take stock of all the artistic professions and savoir-faire that comes together to create an opera production —dramatist, conductor, director, scenographer, video designer, singers, musicians, costumiers, lighting engineers, etc… In partnership with Philosophie Magazine.
Sixth Encounter In Evdokia Malevskaya’s dressing room at Opera Bastille, 1st June 2018
I think we all tell ourselves stories about who we are, our identities and our existences over time, reflecting endlessly on the last ten years. That’s why a man of 25 still maintains a lively dialogue with his adolescence, whereas towards the age of 40 this dialogue unravels to make way for a meditation on the hazards of adulthood. But Evdokia Malevskaya, aged sixteen, who sings the role of Fiodor, the Tsar's son in Boris Godunov, is still in touch with her childhood: “My passion for singing began when I was at nursery school aged six. A show had been organised for the end of the year and I was to play the role of a little mouse. I didn’t feel at ease on stage, I was too intimidated and in the end our group leader had to take on the part in my place at the last minute. After that incident, my mother decided to enrol me in a drama class to help me get over my nerves. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the studio I was overwhelmed by its atmosphere and had only to let myself be carried along. I am still a pupil at the Saint Petersburg Conservatoire, whilst also pursuing my studies at the Elena Obraztsova Academy of Music and Singing.”
The role of Fiodor is one that Evdokia is very familiar with as she played it for the first time when she was nine years old, in a production directed by Yuri Alexandrov. Which raises several questions. During adolescence, boys’ voices break in an impressive fashion, but girls’ voices also change. How has she developed? “Two years ago, my voice changed very abruptly. Before, I sang in quite a low register and I didn’t have a very wide tessitura. My range has now broadened but my register hasn’t stabilised and my teachers are not all of the same opinion. Some of them think I’m a soprano, others a mezzo. My bottom range does have the sonority of a mezzo and my high notes that of a soprano. Having said that, the people I trust the most tell me I’m more of a mezzo.” And the role of Fiodor? “I play it somewhere between the two.” To show that he’s still a child? “But I’m still a child! My voice still lacks the power of the voices of the adult soloists.”
For Evdokia, surrounded by her family: her brother, her mother and assisted by an interpreter, coming to perform in Paris is a wonderful adventure. How did rehearsals with Ivo van Hove, the director, go? “I really appreciated the fact that we were able to exchange ideas. As I’ve been playing Fiodor for a long time, I have a special insight into the role. I therefore contributed several suggestions.”
For example? There’s a scene where my sister Xenia cries over the death of her fiancé. I try to console her and take her mind off it. But she can’t help wallowing in her misery. I asked Ivo: “Supposing I end up getting cross with her?” He replied: “No, no, no, why would you do such a thing?” Two minutes later, he came over and said I could get cross “a tiny bit.” We looked at each other and burst out laughing.”
However, the scene in which Boris goes mad and, stricken, collapses, is not given the same leeway for interpretation. “I did not understand why, at such a moment, I had to stay in the background. “If it were your own father falling to his knees, Ivo asked me, what would you do?” I told him that I certainly wouldn’t just sit there reading or daydreaming. But he did not waver in his conviction. “In this scene, you don’t react.” Psychologically, it is doubtless strange that a child would not come to the assistance of her father; but in dramatic terms, the Tsar's isolation is essential.
Finally, as a specialist on Boris Godunov, what does Evdokia think about the way the production has taken shape generally?
“I really love the first scene. When the music starts, we see people arriving. There is such a perfect fusion between the music and the movement of the crowd. I get shivers down my spine at that point, I don’t know why. I’ve recorded this passage on my smartphone and when I listen to it, a wave of happiness washes through me."