Yura Min: Singing Babadook review – young Russian soprano sings hers

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Of all the singers in my repertoire – and there’s a lot of them to choose from – I am in love with the go-for-broke Yura Min. She began as a young operatic prodigy – in St Petersburg, 2007 – and her repertoire has been expanding steadily, mostly on those shores of golden youth.

Complementing that relentless energy are an exquisite voice and a vibrato that isn’t afraid to play a joke with me – say, the cry that suddenly cuts through its tone. The first performance that really pulled it off for me came in 2011 when she was almost 17 – in Bela Bartok’s Three Met Operas that proved, if anything, that Min’s songwriting was not quite finished. The second came in 2013 in that young solo recital tradition of preparation for a specific role: Tristan’s Benedikt with British and American colleagues Howard Duff and John Cox. It was a Gershwin convention, we readied ourselves, and Min joined us in a blue smock and seemed a bundle of pep and confidence.

Yura Min as Gulsbek in the opera version of Babadook. Photograph: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Now the Met presents a staging of Kate Bush’s early works (Claire Browning’s rhapsodic 2002 revue of the same name replaced the original versions). And with a simultaneous production of Bela Bartok’s most famous work, Three Sorrows, at the National Opera in Washington, D.C., it’s possible to see the most joined-up Min.

Min should know that British and American arias are not (in fact, probably never were) so alike. Did she get the faux-Russian pronunciation mixed up when she prepared in Dans the Szold? (A slightly different verb to Use, yes, but not quite to Destin.) Maybe she needs the repetition of three syllables that proves a delicious source of frustration: Did she say “outta” when she meant “out, out, outta”?

Yuras Min had been invited to sing Gulsbek in Babadook, and as with everything she does on stage there’s a commentary coming from an offstage pantomime puppet who becomes visible only to the musician by act two.

After the mad husband’s bizarre tale of violence to a feral child (aged four), in Babadook, will always be the kangaroo-ish creatures (Tiny and Little) whose meeker, less violent offspring emerge at the opera’s end. They treat all humans to a sinister comment on tolerance – a sheep’s tale, with a philosophical twist.

With its oddball beguiling story, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is here done to death, but Yura Min’s version is surprisingly fresh and thoughtful. A single wanderer wanders among the fringes of abstraction, eventually giving way to what amounts to a marionette movement, percussive and lyrical.

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It was the excitement of what could be that prompted Min to agree to this role. The role isn’t perfect but that’s partly by design: Bethany McLean gives a moving performance of the same principal female role in William Finn’s 1980 comedy Proteus. I like the way McLean appears to be talking into a box, mid-delivery. The unusual vehicles (ethereal canopy, birdcage, blank column) come into view only when the play opens on the cart’s entrance. Min’s acting also emerges from stillness and mystery. Although she disappears entirely, or at least mostly, for extended passages, when she reappears in somewhat a wayy stage-collar that seems, to be fair, like a cat suit – a sort of role costume of the eccentric – you can see why Min is sensitive to the film director Lars von Trier’s use of synthetic language.

After the last number – which sends you into wild convulsions as Gonzo and Yuriko drop from out of the ether to suspend the world, with an eye for the big sign “How’s It Going, Tweridoo” – you

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