CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Parmarnby Andrei NavrozovrnLeningrading VerdirnForeigners often think of life in Italy asrnoperatic, which shows that reinvestmentrnin the obvious is not always a losingrnproposihon. If only more foreigners hadrnfollowed Nietzsche in asking “If it is truernthat evil men have no songs, how is it thatrnthe Russians have songs?” then perhapsrnthe world would not have become thernplaything of wickedness that it is toda).rnAnd there vou have it. All the themes Irnintend to touch upon in describing ni}’rnisit to the Teatro Regio in Parma are audiblernin mv opening paragraph.rnAt the Regio, as part of the Verdi Festix’al’srnCelbrazioni Ndzionali commemoratingrnthe centenary of the composer’srndeath, Valery Gergiev led the OrchestrarnKirov del Teatro Mariinskij di San Pietroburgornin a performance oiVn Ballo inrnMaschera, with Ivan Momirov as Riccardo,rnSergei Murzae- as Renato, and OlgarnSergeeva as Amelia. Regia: Andrej Konchalovskij.rnThe name of the person identifiedrnin the program as responsabile deirnprogetti speciali, I was amused to note inrnthe interval, was Kalashnikov.rnThe Kirov is generally in a bit of troublernthese days. The}- cannot really go onrncalling themselves the Kirov, becausernnames like the Goebbels Playhouse orrnthe Pol Pot Skating Rink or the AminrnLimcheonette are no longer in fashion.rnThe fact that, as our parents used to sing,rn”We’s so upset and so worried oh / ‘CosrnStalin bumped ‘im off in a corridor,”rndoes little to restore to the Kirov namernsome of its original Bolshevik dignity.rnEqually, they cannot change it back tornthe Imperial Mariinsky because, in thernWest, nobodv will come —especiallyrnthose vital ballet audiences of provincialrnmothers who have been brought up onrnmatinee idols like The Kirov’s Own!!rnRudolf Nureye!!! In Moscow, the Bolshoirnwas luckier for the Bolsheviks. Itrnlooked as though they had shrewdlyrnnamed themseUes after the theater.rnWithout dispute, Gergiev is one of thernleading conductors of our day. The realrntrouble he has to deal with is that, duringrn70 years of Soviet rule, Russia did not producerneven one singer worth hearing. Naturally,rnyou may not say “Smirnov” orrn”Chaliapine” or “Wesselovski” becausernthat would be lying: They had beenrnworld famous by 1917, and mentioningrnthem is like giving credit to the New YorkrnTimes Book Review for having fosteredrnEmily Dickinson. And please, I beg vou,rndon’t say “Obraztsova” or “Vishnevskaya,”rnor I’ll turn around and walk away;rnwe’re talking Italy here, we’re talking thern”Verdi season, we’re talking the TeatrornRegio di Parma. Here, in 1837, they actuallyrnrejected onng Verdi. Here, inrn1916, Amelita Galli-Curci sang Gilda.rnI have the record, and I can only explainrnthe cultural difference between arnGalli-Curci and a Vishnevskaya as therndistance between a painting by Ingresrnand a work of socialist realism, though ofrncourse one mustn’t assume that this explanationrnwill satisfy everybody. As itrnhappened, on the way to Parma I stoppedrnoff in Bologna to see an exhibition of Sovietrnart at the Palazzo Re Enzo. “Could itrnbe,” the authors of the catalogue rhetoricizedrn(incredulously and indignantly)rn”that Stalin’s regulations had swept awayrnthe artists’ expressive capacities, and sornfilled their consciences as to transformrnthem into mere illustrators of state propaganda?”rnI don’t want to insult anyone,rnbut a hall in the vaulted walkwav beneathrnthe Palazzo Re Enzo has a famousrnacoustic peculiarity, which a friendrndemonstrated to me after we had seen thernexhibihon. You talk to the wall, and itrntalks back. Verj’ Bologna.rnLater that night in Parma, we went outrnto dinner with the only Italian singer inrnthe production, the almost indecentlyrnbeautiful and almost indescribably giftedrnLaura Giordano, who sang Oscar. Thernextravagant compliment I paid her wasrnalmost entirely true, namely, that just becausernwe Russians can write books betterrnthan the Americans and build tanks betterrnthan the Germans does not mean thatrnwe should carr)’ pelmeni (ravioli, actually)rnto Parma —that is to say, to sing Verdirnat the Teatro Regio. In fact, the tenorrnIvan Momirov is Bulgarian, but since hernhad been audibl}’ booed, I generoush’ includedrnhim, too.rnIn the interests of fairness, I must addrnthat Konchalovsky’s staging made for arnmost beautiful production —in the lastrnscene, the curtain parted with a fireworksrnof glittering baubles that seemed to havernbeen disgorged by the magnificent ballroomrnitself like some Faberge ornamentrnbeing given birth by Versace in a paintingrnby Galanin-but then again I neverrndid say that our boys couldn’t do theater,rnor play a musical instrument, or evenrnpaint as well as the next KGB man. Andrnyet, mysteriousl}’, the’ have ne’er beenrnable to sing grand opera, and so after ourrndinner with la Laura, I decided to proceedrnto another restaurant, where thernRussians were celebrating, to learn wherernGergiev had found the chutzpah (palle,rnactually) to carry coals to Donbass. I hadrnmet the conductor once before, in London,rnat a dinner gi’en bv Donatella Flickrnat her house in Hyde Park Gate, andrnthought him perfectly charming, as thernmothers who did not want me to daterntheir daughters used to say about me,rntheir lips tightening with menace. “Yes,rnhe is charming. Charming.”rnBut now I must cast off the harmlessrnmisdeeds of my remotest past for the sakernof one crucial observation: Opera is importantrnto Italy because only in operarndoes the Italian language become nationalrnin any meaningful cultural sense; and,rnas if that were not important enough, onlyrnin opera does that language become international,rnin the sense that French mayrnbe acknowledged as the language of politicsrnor E’nglish the language of science.rnSinging Italian opera is every note a linguisticrnexercise, and listening to a fellowrnwho knows no Italian singing Verdi is likernseeing a professor of Russian literature atrnthe University of California barging into arnChekhov pla’ in a nylon tracksuit.rnIt is as though the architectonic structurernof musical sound translates itself intornthe living and breathing chimera of nativernItalian speech the way a competentrnarchitect can render a building b)’ meansrnof a technical drawing, whereas a foreigner’srnaccent imperceptibly erodes andrneventually undermines the entire musicalrnstructure. The travest}’ is all the morerndastardly for being virtually undetectable,rnrather the way a man out of his headrnon cocaine may appear perfectly normalrnto his own children. Russian grammaticalrnforms, in particular, often mimic thern36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn