Just got back from Ghenady Meirson’s free concert version of Tchiakovsky opera Iolanta at AVA with a fine cast of wonderful voices. It is always instructive to hear Tchiakovsky when Ghenady is at the piano. There are two more chances to hear some great voices singing this rarely performed masterpiece. Rarely performed because of its length 90 minutes- It was originally was on a split bill with the Nutcracker- and the complexity of the score, Ghenady said afterward, rubbing his hands.

Russian week continues two nights later with the first every appearance in Philly of the Russian National Orchestra playing Shostakovich, Khatchaturian, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka and of course Tchaikovsky. Some of the selections accompanied by Cirque de la Symphonie, the mostly Eastern European troupe of acrobacts and aerialists.

The Mann Center was pretty jammed for a sultry and overcast night, with a game crowd, young and old. A most surreal moment came when Jarek and Darek, two strongmen in gold body make-up and Grecian corinthian briefs, posed on a platform and executed a an adagio gymnast routine set to Shastakovich’s Symphony no. 5- one incredible movement had Darek aloft in a one-arm handstand on Jarek’s head- doubly impressive because his body was splayed past any vertical balance, it was a purely strength move.

Not to be outdone, RNO was so vibrant that the performers in front of them didn’t completely steal the show. The highlight for me was the Borodin’s Polovisian Dances, surpassing its famous theme ‘Stranger in Paradise’ which was just enfolded into such a rousing, very earthy, very Russian epic.

Continuing Russian week to stave off the hot weather, I’m reviewing a new novel set partially in St. Petersburg and other winter wonderlands. Although I can’t divulge the book because it isn’t out ’til Sept. I can say that it is a fantasia of cultures, countries and conflicts as lived and recounted by the gay brother of famed 20th century Russian novelist. A fabulously inventive and unexpected novel, which could easily slide into the pantheon of classic gay literature.