Attuned to musical theatre

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GITIS is passing on the traditions of the Russian greats to a new generation of students

Stanislavsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich: these names are synonymous with musical theatre worldwide. Russia has a rich history in this tradition, which has both influenced and been influenced by internationalisation: opera came to Russia in the 18th century and its distinctive Russian form has long since blossomed, being performed around the world.

The Russian greats’ works are still performed today, but Moscow’s musical theatre scene now encompasses a rich blend of old and new, Russian and foreign productions: a musical take on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina alongside Western favourites such as The Phantom of the Opera; the Bolshoi Ballet performing Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus; productions of Eugene Onegin and La Boheme.

At the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS)’s musical theatre department, students immerse themselves in this world, hoping to become the next generation of directors, actors and sound engineers.

“We are trying to preserve the great national theatre culture,” says Dmitry Bertman, the head of the musical theatre acting and directing department. He aims to “continue the tradition of training opera directors, the immortality of Chaliapin, Stanislavsky and Pokrovsky.”

He adds that at GITIS, “we are opposed to the sometimes-unprofessional landscape” of theatre teaching that has pervaded some higher education institutions. Students must study the performance traditions and theories diligently, in courses enriched with a history of Russian and foreign theatre and literature; cinema history; music; and the history of costume.

And, of course, students learn technical skills: solo and ensemble singing and stage movement; staging and solfeggio; acoustic analysis and recording. “Daily classes are necessary for the arsenal of the opera artist,” Professor Bertman says.

GITIS students from different disciplines work together from early on in their courses, combining their skills to stage performances, participate in festivals, and to enter competitions and concerts. Professor Bertman says this “system of one ensemble” sets GITIS apart from other institutions.

Outside GITIS, Professor Bertman is artistic director of Helikon Opera in Moscow, which he founded in 1990. Helikon stages operas, operettas and musicals, and is now one of Russia’s biggest opera houses.

He says that creating the company and its repertoire is the greatest achievement of his career, which has seen him stage productions around that world. He has dedicated a portion of that career to teaching aspiring artists – and he has also been lecturing at Switzerland’s renowned Bern Opera Studio for more than 15 years, teaching the traditions of Russian icons such as Stanislavski and Chaliapin.

Before that, he studied at GITIS. “An oath to my great teachers to continue the school and methods” compelled him to return in 1996 as artistic director of its musical theatre workshop.

In 2003, Professor Bertman became head of the department, where he says he has tried to inject “more freedom” into its programmes. In future, he would like to expand them still further, offering internships in opera houses, courses taught in foreign languages and training in a greater breadth of singing styles.

“We look at our results in the employment of graduates,” he says. “[Our graduates] are already the leaders of the leading theatres in Russia – soloists representing our school on the main stages of the world.”

Find out more about GITIS.

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