Presented by Juventas New Music Ensemble
Music by Polina Nazaykinskaya
Music direction by Lidiya Yankovskaya
Stage direction by Erin Huelskamp
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston) The Magic Mirror succeeds, most of all, in elegance. Characters move through a sumptuous world, wandering along whirls of purple and blue on the floor, moving through dark woods and bright cottages. Varvara Sosedova, a visual artist from Moscow, brings personality and charm to the scenes, costumes, and props she designs. The contemporary songs and music also do their part to bring a hard edge to the story. Even when characters aren’t as distinguishable as they could be or when the story begins to drag, the Juventas New Music Ensemble and composer Polina Nazaykinskaya create a fully realized world for Alexander Pushkin’s Snow White.
Many of the symbols and plot elements in the version of the Snow White fairy tale best known to American and Disney audiences remain. The Evil Queen (Jennifer Weiman) is still a cruel temptress with an unrelenting hatred for those more beautiful than her. Still key to the plot are an apple, a mirror, and a long sleep that seems a lot like death.
Those less familiar with Russian poet Alexander Pushkin’s version, however, may be surprised to see a more in-depth quest undertaken by the Prince (Sean Lair). Snow White (Erin Anderson) also lives with seven handsome, swooning knights instead of dwarves, men who are very interested in courting the princess until she politely rejects them in favor of her fiancé. The story, with these small changes, develops a deliciously Russian folk flavor.
The hunter ordered to kill the princess on behalf of the Evil Queen is also exchanged for a serving woman, Chernyafka (Yelena Dudochkin). Dudochkin shows her inner-conflict and wavering loyalty with subtle glances, bringing nuance to an otherwise gentle servant. The rest of the cast, however, portray their characters as archetypes rather than people. In a fairy tale with so much potential power, it’s strange that most of the actors seem to play it safe.
Still, it’s a beautiful show. The contemporary instrumentals may be a little off-putting to those not used to modern opera, but they define a world of sharp edges and deadly consequences. The Magic Mirror unfolds like an eerie dream, moving at a sluggish pace sometimes but always mesmerizing for the audience. Sosedova is responsible with her stunning visuals, but Polina Nazaykinskaya is certainly gifted in her music, concept, and libretto. Juventas New Music Ensemble was wise to go forward with such a lovely show.