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Count Orlov Musical Brings Glitz and Glamour to Russian History

December 10, 2019 | By Xandie Kuenning

On Nov. 22, Arts Emerson, in collaboration with Stage Russia, brought the award-winning Count Orlov Musical to the Bright Family Screening Room at the Emerson Paramount Center. Created by renowned playwright Yuliy Kim and composer Roman Ignatyev, the same team behind the Anna Karenina musical and The Count of Monte Cristo, the musical originally premiered at the Moscow Operetta Theatre in 2012. It ran until 2016, earning its spot as one of Russia’s most popular musicals.

Photos Courtesy of Stage Russia

Based on true events, the musical is set in the 18th century during the reign of Catherine the Great. The first act opens in the Port of Livorno, a seaport in Italy, where Count Orlov (Igor Balalaev) resides as the commander of the Russian navy, having fallen out of favor with Catherine (Ekaterina Guseva). While there, he meets Princess Elizabeth (Teona Dolnikova), a beautiful young woman who has been making waves across the continent due to her beauty and grace; supposedly the young Mozart even wrote a piece for her. Supported by a group of Polish emigres — led by Prince Radziwill (Alexander Marakulin) and his friend Domanski (Sergei Lee) — Elizabeth claims to be the granddaughter of Peter the Great, and therefore the rightful heir to the Russian throne. While she seeks Orlov’s help, he instead plots to hand her over to Catherine in order to get himself back into the czarina’s good graces. However, he soon falls in love with Elizabeth, setting in motion a series of events that lead to a tragic end for both of them. 

While Orlov and Elizabeth are the main stars, the musical also puts a lot of focus on Catherine’s struggles as a woman on the Russian throne. Guseva’s portrayal of Catherine is one of great depth and strength, allowing the audience to view her as much more than the stereotypical villain. Indeed, the musical makes it clear that there is no true villain — everyone is just a victim of their own circumstances. 

The entire performance is conducted with great pomp and circumstance. Though there was only one set used, a digital screen in the back and various lighting cues allowed it to transform into various locales across Italy and Russia. In addition, there were dozens of costume changes, each more extravagant than the last — according to The Moscow Times, one of Catherine’s dresses is decorated with more than 15,000 semi-precious stones, and weighs over 20 pounds. However, the glitz and glamour often overshadowed the emotions of the actors, making it harder for the audience to relate to the characters.

The score also had some issues, namely the two power ballads, which, while popular in the 90s, are not that original today. That being said, when composing in the minor key, Ignatyev had some sparks of genius, creating themes that evoked powerful, profound emotions in both the actors and the audience alike. 

One last thing of note, unrelated to the actual performance, is that the English subtitles did not appear multiple times throughout the second act, leaving the majority of the audience confused and frustrated.

 

Overall, Count Orlov Musical is a solid account of a little-known part of history, and if you are a fan of historical musicals, this one is certainly worth a watch.