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

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

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):