Given the international platform to showcase its culture, Russia ran a pretty good opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics. Through a reliance on a stunning projection system and myriads of lights in costumes, rafters, snowflakes and decor, as well as a rich depth of music from Tchaikovsky to a lot of Stravinsky, the show acquitted itself well.
This despite a U.S. viewing through the lens of NBC, which distorted the event a bit with commercial breaks, banal commentary and an almost perverse obsession with connecting every single aspect of the event to Vladamir Putin.
The vestige of the cold war seemed to exist only in the mind of Matt Lauer, as he noted every aspect of the pageantry as some facet of his power-grabbing.
He and Meredith Vieira kept jabbering throughout the event, in a way one would never do at the Russian opera or ballet, giving the kind of tidbits prepared months ago by what sounded like the same advance teams who write their scripts for the Thanksgiving parade.
It was a gift to have David Remnick, the New Yorker editor who was presented as a kind of Russian expert, on hand to actually interpret what the event producers were trying to accomplish, and adding some key historical insight the others wouldn’t have.
But it seemed to be erased every time Lauer said something like this: “”Imperialism in Russia is about to be swept away by two important things,: the Russian Revolution and this commercial break.” Which he actually said.
The ceremonies worked best when nobody was talking and the grandeur of the dancing and artistry of light could take over, giving great power to the pieces of music, two of which were from Stravinsky, “The Rite of Spring” and “Firebird.”
Some may wonder why a song from the musical “Kismet,” “Stranger in Paradise” kept popping up. Its melody was lifted from Russian composer Alexander Borodin’s “Dance of the Maidens” from his opera “Prince Igor.”
The Parade of Nations showed a couple of things: This is largely a competition between a dozen or countries in the snow zones, and a scattered few individuals from the many, many countries elsewhere. Most had a better fashion sense. The U.S.A. garb didn’t need cheers, it was already pretty loud.
NBC had the footage of the event all day to enhance, edit or put in appropriate breaks. What they really could have done was put some translations in captions when the officials began speaking. instead, we had to rely on Lauer saying, “This guy is saying something about Putin.”
And their commentary during the final run of the torch turned to the sleaziest gossip when they noted that the Olympic gold medal winner for rhythmic gymnastics, Alina Kabaeva, was rumored to have once hooked up with Putin.
The spectacle ended with “Swan Lake,” done with the most famous ballerinas and a dazzling use of strands of lights on each dancer, twirling.
NBC, for all its preshow time wasting, didn’t have time, though, to present one great performance that would have translated to its audience: The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs Choir, all in uniform, singing Daft Punk: