A meeting of musical minds
Married couple Yekaterina Galanova and Alexei Markov together form a formidable artistic duo.
Published: June 1, 2011 (Issue # 1658)
Alexei Markov pictured in the role of Renato in ‘Un ballo in maschera.’
A well-traveled opera singer and the founder of an internationally established ballet festival who now comprise one of the most striking artistic couples in St. Petersburg had a romantic first encounter. For arts manager Yekaterina Galanova, who runs the Dance Open International Festival, and Mariinsky Theater baritone Alexei Markov literally first met on stage.
Markov first saw Galanova in 2007 at an opera concert she was organizing in Baku as part of the Days of St. Petersburg festival in the Azerbaijani capital. Galanova was looking for a baritone, and Markov, then a promising up-and-coming soloist of the Academy of Young Singers of the Mariinsky Theater, was given the prestigious concert engagement. The two artists knew nothing about one another at the time.
Since their first joint project in Azerbaijan, Markov has been keen to participate in Galanova’s projects as often as his own globe-trotting schedule allows.
One of the leading soloists of the Mariinsky Theater, Markov spends most of the year abroad performing with the company and fulfilling his own international engagements that have included, most notably, the roles of Eugene Onegin (“Eugene Onegin”), Gryaznoi (“The Tsar’s Bride”), Tomsky (“The Queen of Spades”), Giorgio Germont (“La Traviata”) and Renato (“Un ballo in maschera”) with some of the world’s most prestigious opera troupes.
The big international break for Markov, who joined the Mariinsky’s opera division in 2008, came in 2007 when he made a promising debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera as Andrei Bolkonsky in Andrei Konchalovsky’s production of Prokofiev’s “War and Peace.”
Anthony Tommasini, the classical music reviewer at the New York Times, compared Markov’s portrayal of the vulnerable and alienated Bolkonsky to the Little Prince from Saint-Exupery’s eponymous novel.
Martin Bernheimer of the Financial Times described Markov’s performance as a revelation. “Tall, dashing and eminently sensitive, Alexei Markov provided a magnetic, melancholic counterforce as Andrei,” Bernheimer wrote. “The baritone from Vyborg conveyed equal parts fervor, elegance and eloquence. When all was sung and roared, one left the house filled with admiration.”
Markov thrives in Verdi operas that feature sophisticated characters.
“My heroes can be brutal, but they are torn by passions, which makes them exciting to perform,” he said. “Renato [in ‘un ballo in maschera’] kills his best friend, but he is overwhelmed by jealousy. When you are working on a certain role, you are destined to immerse yourself in it, fall in love with it, identify with your character, even when they are bastards or cowards,” Markov said.
“I would find it impossible to single out a character with whom I cannot empathize at all.”
Warrior Khoreb in Hector Berlioz’s opera “Les Troyens,” whom Markov sang to high critical acclaim in 2009, became one of the closest roles to the singer’s heart owing to its deeply romantic nature.
“Baritone roles are usually either bastards or ladies’ men, but hardly ever romantics,” Markov explained. “Khoreb has a genuine love duet with Kassandra. I always envied tenors for their heartfelt repertoire, and in the role of Khoreb, I found that sort of romantic touch that I had missed so much.”
Arts manager Yekaterina Galanova.
Coincidentally, Galanova is no stranger to the stage of the Mariinsky Theater, where she danced in the corps de ballet for ten years before moving on to start her own project, the Dance Open International festival.
It took several years for Galanova to resolve on quitting the stage, yet she admits that in a way, the penny dropped for her at the very moment she joined the Mariinsky.
“Being in the corps de ballet is really taxing work — not so much in the physical sense, because indeed, soloists work very hard too — but because it is repetitive,” Galanova explained. “If you want to be creative, the corps becomes depressing. After a couple of years you learn everything there is in the classic repertoire, and then it becomes a routine — unless you are promoted to a soloist’s position.”
At one point, the ballerina realized she could take no more of it. “Once I caught myself thinking about cooking dinner while I was on stage,” she recalled. “And then I felt that I was at a critical stage. ‘That’s it; I must go,’ I thought. And I left.”
Galanova’s first years as the head of her own festival were almost sleepless and indeed far more exhausting than dancing in the corps, but her creativity and inspiration that had been hampered for nearly a decade offered a substantial enough refuel.
“I was voracious, unstoppable and euphoric about finally being able to have my own word,” Galanova recalled. “It probably felt like being liberated from jail.”
Her endeavors have paid off. The list of participants of Dance Open shines with the biggest names on the international ballet scene, from Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru to Bavarian State Ballet’s Lucia Lacarra to New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski.
This year, Dance Open made the list of the top most attractive arts events in Europe to visit this spring, according to Britain’s The Independent, which included the event in its rating.
Despite her own back-breaking schedule, Galanova visits all of her husband’s premieres, be it on home soil or abroad. “I always find time for this; it means so much to me and it made me so proud when I saw tears in the audience’s eyes at the Met when Alexei sang Bolkonsky,” she said. “And, besides, about the only time I get for reading is on those long-haul flights,” she joked.
For Markov, being part of operatic and cultural events organized by Galanova goes without saying.
“I very much respect what she does, and as much as my own work allows me, I am there for her,” he said.