Music by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Libretto by Alexander Medvedev
The Lowry, 3 March 2011
An artist sells his soul for fame and wealth, betraying his muse in the process.
By giving up all aspirations to art, Chartkov becomes prey to fate, a buffoon to the powerful. His meeting with a journalist to puff his reputation takes place in the Café Push Kin: a neat name for an establishment where nepotism and shady deals thrive.
Adapted from a story by Gogol, the time-frame of the opera seems uncertain. We are in Tsarist Russia, it seems like, at the start; then Chartkov is confined to a mental hospital that has a good few portraits of Stalin on the wall; and perhaps in a topical nod to events occurring in Libya, a sunglasses-clad Colonel Gaddafi makes an appearance: he is a convenient tyrant.
There were many things to admire about this Opera North production:
- Paul Nilon gave a moving performance as Chartkov, the artist for whom matters do not end well.
- The sets and costumes, courtesy of Dan Potra, were quite spectacular: magical and transporting, full of vivid colours.
- As well, David Poutney’s decision to film Chartkov close up – his muse Psyche (the delectable Hedda Oosterhoff, pictured above) held the camera and his image was projected onto the screen behind - justified itself due to Paul Nilon’s stature as a performer. He is a fine actor as well as a fantastic singer.
- What Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s score conveyed most of all was an eerie, perilous ambience, quite in keeping with the story. For very many moments, the stage became a portal into another world, quite as contingent as this one.
The Portrait is a terrific theatrical experience.