Singer Erik Kurmangaliev, one of the most colorful characters in Russia’s perestroika music world, died in Moscow of a liver infection on Nov. 13. He was 47.
Born in a remote region of Central Asia’s Kazakhstan, with the surname Salim-Meruet, his early musical talent saw him attend that country’s Conservatory in capital Almata, before he transferred to Moscow to study to at the acclaimed Gnesin Institute.
His countertenor voice was unusual, and not officially recognized in the Soviet era, bringing him considerable disapproval from the authorities, but that didn’t prevent Kurmangaliev from debuting at the Leningrad Philharmonia in 1980.
Among major later classical performances were roles in premieres of Alfred Shnitke’s Second Symphony and “Dr. Faust” cantata.
His character, infused with a distinctive sexual ambiguity, took off on the stage when in the early 1990s he partnered with the then-controversial director Roman Viktyuk, most notably as the Chinese courtesan-spy Shi Pei Pu in the first Russian staging of David Hwang’s “M. Butterfly.”
Increasingly unpredictable by nature, his relationship with Viktyuk had soured by 1992, when on occasions he failed to appear for scheduled performances.
Kurmangaliev’s musical career continued, however, both within the ex-USSR and internationally, though increasingly by the late 1990s he lost the cult following that he had once had.
His last screen role was in arthouse director Rustam Khamdanov’s “Vocal Parallels,” which screened in Venice two years ago, where he played the only main male role in a film otherwise dominated by somewhat elderly female Soviet opera divas.