The Winter Olympics are here! And, as usual, the Opening Ceremony was a display of spectacular proportions but, this time, classical music took center stage over a blanket of technological creativity.
More than ever before, each city hosting the Olympic Games has been focusing their efforts in displaying, in some way, the history of its country during the Opening Ceremony and on letting the world know where it is that they are going; in other words, who they were, who they are, and who they are becoming. And Sochi was no exception in this identity story telling.
Now taking place every two years -- vs. every four as they used to, since the Olympics were split into winter and summer games -- every one of these multi million dollar spectacles are more and more difficult to match, specially after the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Though they are not thought of as a performing arts event, they truly are; and, most certainly, at 51 billion, this is the most expensive to date and a quite ambitious one at that.
Regardless of the obvious bump on the road -- the snowflake that would not turn into the fifth Olympic ring -- the 2014 Winter Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Sochi was a massive display of visual extravaganza, auditory delight, and technological application where classical music, literature and ballet where the main characters set within the context of a country that has undergone many permutations and is now reinventing itself.
The music included selections from well-known works by Russia's famed and beloved composers, among them Stravinky's 'Rite of Spring' and 'Fire Bird;' Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake' and 'The Nutcracker;' and, as the night's musical overture, the 'Gliding Dance of the Maidens' from the Polovtsian Dances, from Borodin's opera Prince Igor, a theme very familiar to musical theater lovers as it was the inspiration for Kismet's 'Stranger in Paradise.'
The State Anthem of the Russian Federation was performed by the Sretensky Monastery Choir. In existence since 1367 with an interruption only during the Soviet Era, the ensemble's exquisite sound, one unique to Russian tradition, offered an auditory treat; a full, luscious, deep quality that exalted the robust melodic and harmonic richness of this arrangement.
Svetlana Zakharova, prima ballerina at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, and Vladimir Vasiliev, former principal dancer and Artistic Director of the same company, performed with graceful beauty as Natasha Rostova and her father in Natasha Rostova's First Ball. Better known as 'The Ball Scene,' in Leo Tolstoi's 'War and Peace,' this enactment was set to the music of 'My Sweet and Tender Beast.' This breathtaking waltz by Eugen Doga was featured in the Russian film of 1978, 'The Shooting Party.' Also performing in this segment, was Mariinsky Theatre's principal dancer, Danila Korsuntsev.
Mariinsky Theatre's (Kirov Ballet) prima ballerina, Diana Vishneva, a native of Saint Petersburg -- birthplace of Russian ballet -- displayed her ever so graceful movements in The Dove of Peace, which was beautifully choreographed to the music of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake Suite.' A collection of what looked like giant lit jelly fish that twirled to the waltz, ultimately formed the shape of a dove that was visually set to fly by the gigantic projections against the floor of the Fisht Olympic Stadium.
International opera star and Russian born soprano, Anna Netrebko, accompanied by an all male chorus, gave a powerful and passionate rendition of the Olympic Hymn in Russian as the Olympic flag was presented at the ceremony. This was certainly a performance to remember.
Russia has given to the world some of the most beloved and beautiful music, dances and literature. The Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics honored this tradition and gifted it to the world once more maybe, this time, under a new light; hopefully one that inspires as this country defines its post Soviet identity. Music speaks where words fail. And it spoke loudly on Friday, hopefully about a country that looks to learn from the past, live in the present, and honor the future...