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Recording Mozart in Russia’s Ural Mountains


FILE - Conductor Teodor Currentzis (R) accompanies U.S. opera singer Mardi Byers in the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. (REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov)

FILE - Conductor Teodor Currentzis (R) accompanies U.S. opera singer Mardi Byers in the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. (REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia’s political relations with Western countries have worsened because of the situation in Ukraine. Some observers are looking to cultural cooperation to help ease tensions. Take the story of Teodor Currentzis, a Greek-born orchestra conductor. He is now leading a group of musicians and singers from around the world in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Their goal is to record the perfect operatic work of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Teodor Currentzis is just 42 years old. He was born in Greece, but is now a Russian citizen. He moved to Russia after leaving Western Europe in the 1990s. Mr. Currentzis formerly worked in the famous opera houses of Moscow and St. Petersburg. But he decided to go to Perm, a city near the Ural Mountains. For many Russians, Perm is best known for its prison camps from the time of the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Currentzis says he likes how quiet the area seems compared to big cities.

“It’s like a monastery. Perm for me is the place that I can isolate myself from the unimportant part of the career and create the most important thing that I can create, like an artist.”

Mr. Currentzis is busy recording the operas Mozart wrote with the opera librettist and poet Lorenzo Da Ponte. Sony Classical Records released his orchestra’s recording of Nozze di Figaro, or The Marriage of Figaro, in 2014. Many music critics liked what they heard. This year Sony released Cosi Fan Tutte. The third and final recording, Don Giovanni, will be released later this year.

Mr. Currentzis says his recordings let people hear Mozart as the composer wanted his works to be heard. He says other recordings have not shown the power of Mozart’s works.

“What is our mission? To make music for a restaurant or a bathtub? Or to serve the composer? And it is really difficult to achieve this result. And I tell you in regular recordings they compromise. One of the first three takes will be, ‘uh, that’s fine. We’re finished!’”

Last year, singers and musicians from around the world gathered at the Perm Opera House to record Don Giovanni.

The recording sessions were sometimes 10, 12 or even 14 hours long. Mr. Currentzis asked German singer Simone Kermes to sing one small part of the opera 50 times. She was not happy about that.

“Of course, Mozart is difficult to record and what Teodor wants it’s like over what a human being can do if you’re not a computer. He has no respect of the singer!”

Mr. Currentzis’ Russian orchestra is called MusicAeterna. He chose its members. They are known for their dedication to the music.

Afanasy Chupin is the group’s first violinist.

“Oh, for me it’s very simple. I wake up every morning, I come to the theater and I spend all my life here.”

When Mr. Currentzis arrived in Perm in 2010, he and the area’s governor reached a deal: the governor would support the orchestra if Mr. Currentzis would help Perm become well-known for its music. But the official was later dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And now local officials are threatening to reduce the city’s support. They also want to have the power to approve the works to be performed. Last year, the Ministry of Culture even released a policy paper that said “Russia is not Europe.” Mr. Currentzis rejects the policy.

“I don’t think that there is a country that can exist without the influence of the East and without the influence of the West. It’s one world with one electricity.”

I’m Bob Doughty.

Charles Maynes reported this story from Perm, Russia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

opera – n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play, with music performed by an orchestra

monastery – n. a place where religious workers live and work together

isolate – v. to put or keep (someone or something) in a place or situation that is separate from others

librettist – n. a person who writes a libretto (the words of an opera or musical)

composer – n. a person who writes music

mission – n. a job that you consider to be a very important duty

session – n. a period of time that is used to do a particular activity

dedication – n. a feeling of strong support for or loyalty to someone or something; the quality or state of being dedicated to a person, group or cause

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