Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



(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):