Exhibitions Huon Mallalieu
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, to 14th January 2018
brutal ‘taking’ of Katerina, for example, famous for the trombone’s post-coital glissando as it descends ignominiously by semitones from its ejaculatory high A. Indeed, the original 1932 score was thought lost until Mstislav Rostropovich (who made his own inimitable recording for EMI with Galina Vishnevskaya in the title role) discovered a copy in the Library of Congress in Washington.
The Salzburg sets, by Kriegenburg’s preferred collaborator, Harald B. Thor, made full use of the Festspielhaus’s immense width and depth. Echoing elements of the designs for the original Maly Theatre production, the farm’s inner courtyard was surrounded by Soviet-style, concrete high-rise, with Katerina’s more spacious upstairs bedroom sliding into view as the scenes demanded.
As usual with Kriegenburg – an Ingmar Bergman disciple – the drama could barely have been better played or cast, except for one inexplicable thing: the decision to engage the fiftyfour-year-old Wagnerian superstar Nina Stemme to play the twenty-three-yearold Katerina. Angela Merkel (who attended one of the performances) would have looked almost as alluring, and would at least have had an excuse for refusing to attempt the simulated sex. A rising young star from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky company, Evgenia Muraveva, took over after two performances.
Even with Stemme, it was a memorable evening, one of many I have had reason to remember with a mix of wonderment and awe since I first visited Salzburg as a student in 1963. Ninety-seven years after its founding by Max Reinhardt in 1920, this remains the prince of European festivals. The Fitzwilliam is going to town with its celebrations for the centenary of Degas’s death, with three distinct, but overlapping, exhibitions.
Presumably for reasons of internal housekeeping, they all open and close on slightly different dates; the latest being Degas’s Drinker, Portraits by Marcellin Desboutin, his friend and sometime model, which runs until 25th February. The last display is of caricatures by Daumier, Garvani and Keene, all of whom Degas collected.
The main show is largely drawn from the museum’s own holdings, the most extensive and representative in Britain; to which have been added about sixty loans from public and private collections, including paintings and drawings once owned by the economist John Maynard Keynes.
A remarkable range of work – paintings, pastels, drawings, watercolours, prints of different types, counter-proofs and bronze and wax sculptures (with fingerprints) – shows a fascination with technical experimentation.
Arranged thematically, the exhibition highlights not just the subjects most prominent in his work – nudes, café scenes and the dance – but also his individual approach to landscape painting. His lifelong passion for learning from others is revealed in a series of copies after Italian Renaissance artists and near-contemporaries such as Ingres and Delacroix.
Counterbalancing this, a final section examines Degas’s legacy, notably in the work of Sickert, Picasso, Freud, Auerbach, Kitaj and Bacon. I am not always convinced that the current fashion for contemporary add-ons actually adds much, but hope to be proved wrong here. www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Degas’s ‘Dancers in Violet Skirts’, c.1898
Nina Stemme and Brandon Jovanovich