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

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

(Left to Right) Alexander Vinogradov as Malyuta-Skuratov, Ekaterina Gubanova as Lyubasha and Johan Reuter as Gryaznoy [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera]
18 Apr 2011

The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera House

In Russian-speaking countries, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride is much loved. In the west, it’s known mainly for its Overture. The Royal Opera House’s production is the first major production of the full opera in Britain.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tsar’s Bride

Grigory Gryaznoy: Johan Reuter; Malyuta-Skuratov: Alexander Vinogradov; Bomelius: Vasily Gorshkov; Ivan Likov: Dmytro Popov; Lyubanova: Ekaterina Gubanova; Marfa Sobakina: Marina Poplavskaya; A young lad: Andrew O’Connor; Dunyasha: Jurgita Adamonytė; Petrovna: Anne-Marie Owens; Vasily Sobakin: Paata Burchuladze; Domna Ivankovna: Elisabeth Woollett; A girl: Louise Armit; The Tsar’s Stoker: Jonathan Coad. Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, London. Conductor: Sir Mark Elder. Director: Paul Curran. Set: Kevin Knight. Lighting: Martin Jacques. Royal Opera House, London, 14th April 2011.

Above: (Left to Right) Alexander Vinogradov as Malyuta-Skuratov, Ekaterina Gubanova as Lyubasha and Johan Reuter as Gryaznoy

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Audiences expecting Sheherezade will be in for a shock. The Tsar’s Bride is no fairy-tale fantasy. The first image you see is one of a crumpled, semi-naked figure tied to a chair. Grigory Gryaznoy (Johan Reuter), the oprichnik, here seen as a kind of Mafia boss, removes the victim’s hood, it shows he’s been tortured. They are both in a luxuriously appointed night club, after hours. Waiters mill about, but no-one dares intervene. It’s a metaphor for the whole opera, which deals with the vicious abuse of power. Everyone can be bought if the price is right, sings Lyubasha (Ekaterina Gubanova). She knows she’s doomed, since Gryaznoy has found another love. When he and his cronies throw a party, they’re entertained by lap dancers, desperate young women who sell themselves to survive.

Luxury, contrasted with degradation. Gryaznoy has been smitten by Marfa Vasilyevna, (Marina Poplavskaya) the daughter of Vasily Sobakin (Paata Burchuladze). The family is happy as all seems to be going well. They are merchants from Novgorod. They don’t normally move in dissolute Court circles, but Marfa is engaged to her childhood sweetheart Ivan Likov (Dmytro Popov), who has returned to her after years in the Tsar’s service. Burchuladze, Popov, Poplavskaya and Jurgita Adamonytė (Dunyasha) sing the beautiful Act II Quartet joyfully but it’s heartbreaking to know what lies ahead.

TSARS-BRIDE.201104080801.gifDmytro Popov as Likov and Marina Poplavskaya as Marfa

Rimsky-Korsakov writes relatively little for Marfa to sing until the end, because she’s a modest virgin. In Act II, Poplavskaya’s voice created Marfa’s optimism perfectly. She’s dressed at first in a version of a man’s three piece suit but that actually emphasizes her innate femininity. She’s not self conscious, she’s herself. No silly coquetry, but clear toned, directness of expression. Poplavskaya can be touchingly tender when she sings of her childhood, but she creates Marfa as a morally upright personality. It works well dramatically. because this honest Marfa has more integrity than anyone else. No wonder Gryzanoy and the Tsar are hypnotized. When a person like that gets destroyed by the mean and venal, it’s much more tragic than if it were someone you can’t relate to.

Act II takes place in an oligarch’s penthouse, complete with swimming pool and a breathtaking view of the Moscow skyline. New buildings, some still with cranes. New money, ostentatious consumption, greed. The Tsars weren’t the only rulers to misuse their authority, as Russian-speaking audiences were only too aware. Gryaznoy plots to win Marfa with a love potion concocted by Bomelius, the sinister German apothecary (Vasily Gorshkov) . What he doesn’t know is that Lyubasha has switched the potion for poison. What none of them know until the last moment is that the Tsar has pulled a switch on them all by deciding, arbitrarily, to marry Marfa himself. The Tsar (in this case Ivan the Terrible) is an invisible presence, all the more menacing because he’s unseen and unheard, but destroys everyone’s plans. Just as no-one stops Gryzanov, no-one stops the Tsar.

In the Tsar’s ornate, golden palace, Marfa, now Tsarina, is dying. Marina Poplavskaya’s portrayal of Marfa now revealed its true fire and intelligence. Poplavskaya is too good to indulge in standardized “mad scene”. She sings so each phrase means something, as if Marfa is trying to process in her mind a source of evil beyond her comprehension. “Where’s Likov?”, she’s thinking, and turns to Gryaznoy, mistaking him for the man she’s longing for. It’s so disturbing that even he is moved. Because Poplavska makes us realize that Marfa is a human being, not a lunatic, she makes us empathize.

TSARS-BRIDE.201104080023.gifJohan Reuter as Gryaznoy

Poplavkaya’s Marfa is truly the daughter of a father like Paata Burchuladze’s Sobakin. As soon as he begins to sing in Act II, he lifts the ante for the whole cast. His is a real “Russian” bass, with dark gravitas, given extra colour by his extensive experience in Italian repertoire. His Act IV aria, “Zabylasya” compresses a huge emotional range into a few minutes. Sobakin isn’t a man of many words, but he’s deep. Even when he’s not singing, he’s a presence, blocked by the director Paul Curran so he’s the pivot of proceedings. Just as the Tsar doesn’t need to sing to be effective, Burchuladze stands at the centre of ensembles, observing and thinking. When he slits Gryaznoy’s throat, it happens so suddenly and subtly that you realize that Sobakin has been building up quietly to this final act of desperation.

Ekaterina Guberova’s Lyubasha was strongly characterized too. In Act I, she pleases the mobsters by singing her charming quasi-folk song, but adds a deliberate air of toughness, which shows how unnatural the situation really is. Perhaps Lyubasha was once like Marfa is now ? in the second Act, Lyubasha spies on Marfa and knows she can’t compete, Guberova captures her despair and revulsion at the price she must pay to bribe Bomelius. It’s only in her final aria that she confronts herself and Gryaznoy. “Straight through the heart” she sings when he stabs her.

Johan Reuter is a vocally acceptable Gryaznoy. But his even-toned solidity implies that he’s fundamentally too nice to portray a villain whose whole life has been spent casually killing and maiming. The part can be created with swaggering sexual menace, but not in this production. By falling for Marfa, Gryaznoy is beginning to see the error of his ways, but characters like that don’t normally reform or they don’t survive.

TSARS-BRIDE.201104120730.gifAct II (Left to Right) Jurgita Adamonytė as Dunyasha, Dmytro Popov as Likov, Marina Poplavskaya as Marfa, Anne-Marie Owens as Petrovna and Johan Reuter As Gryaznoy

Alexander Vinogradov’s Malyuta-Skuratov is more in character, as was Vasily Gorshov’s Bomelius, but both have less to sing. Dmytro Popov’s Likov presented well vocally, but perhaps Rimsky-Korsakov realized that the role is no match against Gryaznoy or even, to some extent, to Marfa. Jurgita Adamonytė’s Dunyasha was well delivered but the role has “downcast eyes” as described in the text. Even Lyubasha dismisses her as a threat. As always, the chorus of the Royal Opera House was excellent, and the dancers were clearly professionally trained. No ordinary choristers can do high kicks and contortions like they did. In the pit, Sir Mark Elder conducted well, though not with the verve specialists in this repertoire might attain. Altogether,The Tsar’s Bride is a very good experience, which deserves to be heard again. Perhaps one day, when London gets the Russian idiom into its heart, The Tsar’s Bride will be appreciated for the opera it is.

The Tsar’s Bride runs from 14th April to 2nd May 2011. For more information please see the Royal Opera House website.

Anne Ozorio

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):