Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Mikhail Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmilla
25 Sep 2005

GLINKA: Ruslan and Lyudmila

Based on a tongue-in-cheek poem by young Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Glinka’s second opera Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842) is an epic adventure tale, in which three rival Russian knights roam the land in search of a Kievan princess kidnapped by a sorcerer.

Mikhail Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmilla

Taras Shtonda (Ruslan), Ekaterina Morozova (Lyudmila), Vadim Lynkovsky (Svetosar), Aleksandra Durseneva (Ratmir), Vitaly Panfilov (Finn), Maria Gavrilova (Gorislava), Valery Gilmanov (Farlaf), Maksim Paster (Bayan), Irina Dolzhenko (Naina); Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow; Alexander Vedernikov (cond.)

PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 034 [3CDs]

 

The opera, known to most Western listeners primarily through its showpiece overture, is one of the most brilliant creations of 19th-century Russian music. In five acts with a prolog, it is enormous and difficult, requiring high virtuosity from both singers and instrumentalists; the score also presents a host of problems for stage directors as it defies all attempts at realistic staging. Meanwhile, conductors face numerous textological conundrums caused by the divergences in the existing sources and the lack of an authorial manuscript, believed to have perished in a fire.

A new Bolshoi Theater recording of the opera, made live in 2003 and recently released by PentaTone Classics, may help to solve some mysteries of Glinka’s masterpiece. Conductor Alexander Vedernikov claims that his production represents “the original version” of the work recreated from the newly found authoritative copies of the lost manuscript. Fans of the opera should not expect major revelations, however: while there are several discrepancies in pitch and rhythm throughout the score, the sequence and content of the material is essentially intact. Indeed, if some music on this recording proves unrecognizable, it is the unfortunate consequence of the performance quality of the new production.

To start with the singers, the ladies generally did better than the men. Alexandra Durseneva’s voice is a deep, rich contralto, a little heavy for my taste, but just sexy enough for the Middle-Eastern exotica of her character, prince Ratmir. Maria Gavrilova is a lovely Gorislava; she is by far the best singer in the lineup, which makes one wish that the composer had given her more than a cameo role. Ekaterina Morozova as Lyudmila is more disappointing: her coloratura is clean and precise, but is suitable more for the Queen of the Night (her signature part) than for a warm-blooded Russian princess; this is particularly noticeable in her Act 4 aria. Still more disappointing is Lyudmila’s beloved, Ruslan; the voice of Taras Shtonda, particularly in the barely perceptible low register, is thoroughly uninspiring. Valery Gilmanov appears to have given up on the whirlwind tempi of Farlaf’s buffo part: the Vivace assai of the famously Rossini-esque Act 2 rondo barely qualifies as a Moderato, completely destroying the hilarious effects of the scene. Maxim Paster’s ringing tenor with steady yet sweet upper register is perfect for Bayan; Vitaly Panfilov’s Finn, however, while technically flawless, is painfully devoid of color. Indeed, several singers on the recording seem to have sacrificed both richness of timbre and richness of interpretation to the goal of precisely rendering the notes of the carefully restored score. One wonders if such an approach would win any converts to Glinka’s genius.

It is difficult to overestimate the tremendous importance of the chorus in Glinka’s epic. According to Vedernikov, the emphasis placed in his production on the chorus as an ever-present commentator led him to abandon the realistic costume drama for an oratorio-like “mystery” (the one with a more contemporary look, as evident from the CD cover art). Unfortunately, as I have already commented in an earlier review for this site, the Bolshoi Theater’s chorus is weak, and has trouble keeping both the pitch and the beat. The introduction and finale – scenes that require more volume than precision – are less affected by this, but the quality is disastrous, for instance, in the Act 2 scene of Ruslan with the giant Head – the character represented by the unison male choir that must be perfectly in sync to achieve the desired effect.

Last but not least, Glinka’s opera lives and dies by its orchestration: as Vedernikov points out, apart from the complex, delicate accompaniment, there are more than 40 minutes of purely instrumental music in Ruslan. The fiendishly difficult score presents an evidently insurmountable challenge to the Bolshoi orchestra, the weakest spot of that theater’s productions over the past few years. As a result, Glinka’s sparkling orchestra comes across as dull, colorless, heavy, and more than occasionally out of tune. The tempo of the brilliant overture is sluggish at best, and even in that tempo the musicians are struggling.

Overall, the new Ruslan and Lyudmila recording is of value for a performer in need of consulting an authoritative version of Glinka’s score without visiting the notoriously mysterious Moscow archives. The rest of us may be better off staying faithful to the Mariinsky recording, or even the vintage 1978 Bolshoi production with Nesterenko, which Melodiya recently re-released on CD. After all, as the conductor tells us, this work is first and foremost a musical masterpiece; it should be approached as such.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri—Columbia

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):