A Night at the Opera

A little over a week ago, we were all still in Moscow. It’s a little hard to believe now, at the end of the first week of classes, but a week ago it was equally hard to believe that soon we’d be starting the semester.
In classes this morning, 203 read a poem by Andrei Bely and 303 read a poem by Boris Pasternak, and after classes, we had tea with our professors and received our certificates of completion for our courses at RSHU. We had sandwiches and pirozhki and then returned to the dorms to get ready for the main event of the day.
We met in the lobby and set out into the night. After a short metro ride and a trek through the labyrinthine and snowy streets of the theater district, we arrived at the Gelikon Opera. (The main image for this post is a mosaic wall-fountain in the opera house.) We handed over our coats and many of us switched out our snow and salt-crusted boots for fancy shoes we’d brought with us.
We made our way upstairs and we, along with a number of other theater-goers, got an impromptu tour of a set of three rooms just off the main lobby. The really interesting thing about the tour is that none of us are quite sure if the man leading it was an employee of the opera house or not. He was certainly familiar with the building and the uniformed workers seemed familiar with him, but he was not dressed to match the others and we saw him later in the audience. Life is full of small mysteries.
The opera was Evgeny Onegin, based on Pushkin’s novel in verse. It was quite good; all of the performers were excellent singers, and the chorus numbers were quite impressive. We all agreed that the best moment was the aria sung by Prince Gremin (the rank of prince in 19th century Russia didn’t mean the son of a ruler, but it was the highest of the noble ranks) in the third act. As I said at the time, he did not so much steal the show as take it by the hands and elope with it.
All in all, an excellent night, though I think we were all very aware that tomorrow would be our last in Moscow. For this trip, at least!

The Jewish Museum & Tolerance Center

By this morning, we were starting to get into the rhythm  of classes. In our literature classes, both groups finished discussing Anna Akhmatova and began reading verses by Alexander Blok, an important Symbolist poet. In our other classes for the day, 203 discussed genres of art and 303 had a wide-ranging discussion which touched on topics including ethnic tension, the national subconscious, and the Moscow metro.

After classes, we met for another excursion out into the snowy city, today led by one of our professors. After a slightly meandering trek, we arrived at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. The first thing we saw was the sign in the above photo, which says “Here is the best place to take a free selfie with a background of the Jewish Museum”. The word ‘free’ isn’t extraneous – at almost all museums in Moscow, there’s an extra fee if you want to take pictures.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, today’s museum was actually more high-tech than the Museum of Cosmonautics (though both had some rather excitingly fancy toilets) – the exhibition space was entered through a “4-D experience” about the biblical story of the Israelites and the origins of Jewish thought and practice which included moving chairs and being spritzed with water during the story of the great flood.

The rest of the museum was a bit more traditional, though there were a number of high-tech interactive exhibits. What was most interesting was that unlike many such museums elsewhere, the Holocaust and its consequences were not the sole focus of the museum. There was a large video exhibit composed largely of interview with survivors – both soldier and civilian – of the war years, but it was bracketed on either side by equally substantial exhibits on the role of the Jewish population in the Bolshevik Revolution and on the lives of Jews in the Soviet union after the war until the perestroika. There was also a large exhibit about life in the shtetls at the center of the museum space.

After our visit to the museum, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant near the university. Moscow might not be the first place you would expect to find superb risotto and pizza, but we found some! At last, we returned to our dormitory to (hopefully) do our homework, and then to head to bed.