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

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