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

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Olga Guryakova as Oxana [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera]
08 Dec 2009

Tchaikovsky’s Sure-Footed ‘Slippers’

Spearheaded by a stunning design concept for The Tsarina’s Slippers, London’s Covent Garden served up as delectable a production as could be desired, and introduced its lucky patrons to a jewel of an under-performed comic opera in the bargain.

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: The Tsarina's Slippers

Oxana: Olga Guryakova, Viktoria Yastrebova; Vakula: Vsevolod Grivnov; Solokha: Larissa Diadkova; Chub: Vladimir Matorin; The Devil: Maxim Mikhailov; Schoolmaster: Viacheslav Voynarovskiy; Pan Golova: Alexander Vassiliev; Panas: John Upperton; His Highness: Sergei Leiferkus; Master of Ceremonies: Jeremy White; Wood Goblin: Changhan Lim. Dancers of The Royal Ballet. The Royal Opera. Conductor: Alexander Polianichko. Director: Francesca Zambello. Set Designer: Mikhail Mokrov. Costume designs: Tatiana Noginova. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher. Choreography: Alastair Marriott.

Above: Olga Guryakova as Oxana

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Tchaikovsky’s seldom seen opus is not, to be sure, in the same league as his Onegin, Queen of Spades or even Mazeppa. But Slippers is nevertheless chockful of the musical ingredients that inform the composer’s weightier works, and the master’s melodic gifts were often in evidence. Most of us (this listener included) were afforded that rare experience of discovering a work that was totally new to us, even if the musical vocabulary was well grounded in our ears. Each character was afforded at least one major set-piece, and if we were often at odds over the “do-we-clap-or-shouldn’t-we?-dilemma,” that only added to the evening’s spontaneity.

The riotously colorful production design appeared as though the creators had taken the most magnificent Palekh lacquer boxes, the airiest of Arthur Rackham drawings, and the wittiest work of Maurice Sendak — put them all in a bag and shook them up — and then let them tumble onto the stage of the Royal Opera. Seldom has a stage picture(s) been so effective in furthering the effectiveness of a comic opera.

Mikhailov_Diadkova_Tsarina.gifMaxim Mikhailov as the Devil and Larissa Diadkova as Solokha

Set designer Mikhail Mokrov devised a spectacularly busy show curtain that delighted the eye and established the tone of the proceedings. One remarkably apt effect followed another: a beautifully judged deep blue town drop with the requisite devil painted on the church steeple in a field of orange; meticulously detailed rustic interiors; a host of wagon insets that were as functional as they were cheeky; a haunting moon drop; a joyous Maypole (or whatever-the-heck a Maypole is called in winter!); and tongue-in-cheek flying effects as the characters take wing on their broomsticks.

Too, there was never a false moment in the atmospheric specials and area illumination of Rick Fisher’s splendid lighting design. Tatiana Noginova took full advantage of the vivid possibilities of folk costuming to fashion dazzling attire that was at once eccentric, eye-catching, complementary to the scenery, and complimentary to the performers. Ms. Noginova not only charmed us with faux animal/devil costumes, but also impressed us with the easy elegance of the dancers’ attire for the more formal ballet segments.

Having recently read some article or another expounding on the loss of national personality in Russian voices, that writer obviously never hear this bunch of soloists. For here was a whole cast (not all Russian) who had “the sound.” You know, the kind of edgy, full-throated sound with generous vibrato that the likes of Vishnevskaya once commanded.

In the key role of Oxana (she who asks for her lover to bring her the titular footwear), Olga Guryakova had a lot going for her. A little too much, perhaps at first. In the first act, Ms. Guryakova seemed a bit too loud and full-throated for the music at hand. Her first aria and scene inside the house cried out for limpid, plangent singing above the staff, and while she certainly had all the notes and sang musically, I couldn’t help but wonder what Renee might have made of those hauntingly lovely phrases. But then, whoa, wait a minute! The demands on our heroine ratcheted up in Act Two, and let me tell you, that pretty-as-a-dainty-princess Olga rode the orchestra with ease, and with clarion high notes. Thrilling stuff that. My previous experience with her gifts was in the title role of Rusalka in Brussels last season and I remember thinking then, too, that while she is very talented and stage savvy, I wish she could caress the melancholy phrases as effectively as she commands the stentorian passages.

Cossack dancers

It is perhaps unfair to muse too hard or long on Vsevold Grivnov’s take on Vakula since he was announced as “feeling a cold coming on.” He is a charming bear of a personality that really emanates a happiness to be on stage, and much of his singing gave pleasure. He seemed to be holding back on this occasion, as his pleasing tenor lacked the same vocal presence as his soprano’s. He sings big roles in major houses, manages to pace himself to spout some buzzy top notes when required, and performs with conviction and stylistic acumen. I would certainly love to hear Mr. Grivnov another time when he is operating at full steam.

The formidable Larissa Diadkova is flat out giving the star performance of the show as the witch Solokha. Hers is a rock solid technique with a thorough understanding of communication of vocal line and text, delivered with a killer smile and a set of pipes that can pin you to your seat. Ms. Diadkova is peerless in this repertoire, and she seems to be having the time of her life. So are we. Veteran Sergei Leiferkus may not have the mellifluous spin in his baritone of yore, but he sang with unparalleled elegance and poise. A sprightly Maxim Mikhailov worked the stage delightedly and offered a cleanly sung, cliche-free Devil.

Viacheslav Voynarovskiy and Alexander Vassiliev did all that was required as the Schoolmaster and Pan Golova, respectively, not least of which was walking around “trapped” in sacks to avoid discovery after their lusting visits to Solokha. Vladimir Matorin (Chub) was certainly extremely tall and extremely loud. This is a big voice and a big boy, but I had the feeling that Matorin was content to let his stature and volume do the job of creating a character, of which there is more to be mined with a more thoughtful reading. John Upperton was a secure Panas and Jette Parker Young Artist Changhan Lim showed real promise with a lovely rendition of the Wood Goblin.

Last but surely not least, Gary Avis, Mara Galeazzi and the other dancers of the Royal Ballet contributed mightily to the evening’s magic with highly assured performances of Alastair Marriott’s memorable choreography. In fact, so fine, so clean was the execution of the substantial dance segments, that it had the unfortunate effect of throwing into high relief the fact that the stage direction was. . .well. . .a bit clunky.

I have enjoyed Francesca Zambella’s work on a number of occasions. . .with musical drama. The talented Ms. Zambella seems less attuned to lighter works (at least based on this show and the rather tepid The Little Mermaid.) The cast is certainly gamely giving their all. However, enthusiastic mincing and prancing; unabashed mugging and playing to the balcony; and random semaphoring are not a substitute for comic interaction grounded in honesty and natural by-play. The specificity and focus of the director’s dramatic work were too often absent here.

Conductor Alexander Polianichko offered quite a substantive reading that seemed infused with the correct style and which ultimately blossomed into spirited music-making. For the first third of the evening, however, the pit seemed a bit off form, indeed curiously muted, with a couple of fluffs in exposed solo work that are surprising from a band that is usually spot on. Happily, midway through Act One the group caught fire and kept up a polished rendition to the end. I have to say, it was curious to have reprised the final chorus accompaniment as instrumental curtain call music! A first for me in the opera house. . .

Minor carping aside, the Royal Opera took a gamble that the public would welcome a work that was virtually unknown, and welcome it they did. As the giant golden shoe rolled on at show’s end and served as a lovers’ carriage, I was quite ready to watch it all over and be enchanted again. It is to be hoped that this winning production might have a long life, for the piece deserves a wider hearing. In the end then, the Slippers fit, the audience cheered, and if we came out (just a bit) humming the scenery, it was a grand occasion, fit for a Tsarina.

James Sohre

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):