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Performances

Scene from The Golden Cockerel [Photo by Hans Jörg Michel]
25 Apr 2016

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Scene from The Golden Cockerel

Photo by Hans Jörg Michel

 

In these times of political madness, the new production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Golden Cockerel (zoloty petushok) by Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf arrives as a refreshingly funny opera. Dmitry Bertman brings this political farce and sex comedy in a delightfully over-the-top staging that made for a highly entertaining and musically engaging production. If you happen to be in the area, it is definitely worth a trip to Düsseldorf, as it’s also scheduled for next season.

The opera is based on a poem by Pushkin, whom Rimsky-Korsakov greatly admired. Tsar Dodon convinces himself his neighboring country Shemakha will attack. He summons an Astrologer, who gives him a golden cockerel to advise him. The bird reveals the Tsarita of Shemakha desires expansion. The Tsar sends his two sons into battle, but they come out defeated. Although in the original libretto they die, Bertman keeps the opera light on drama and high on comedy, so the sons return at the end.

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The second act takes place in Shemakha. To avoid conflict, the Tsarita seduces the Tsar and tricks him into marrying her. While Act III is a bit convoluted dramatically, Bertman directs it with a lighthearted approach. The Astrologer demands the bride during Dodon’s wedding to her, but the Tsar kills the him. Then the bird kills Dodon. In the epilogue, the Astrologer leaves the audience with the message that everyone on stage was unreal, except for the Tsarita and him. Make of that what you will.

Bertman’s Act I opens with Tsar Dodon, his two dunces of sons, and his general in a hottub. The buffoonery of the royals and the incapacitated state of General Polkan set the farcical tone for the rest of the evening. These rampant drunks mix beer and vodka, while brawling and flashing each other. Their behavior starts to make sense, once Tsar Dodon acts the most devious: he feeds the unconscious General milk from a baby bottle. Bertman included many of these suggestive moments that served as provocative comedy..

The highlights of the evening occurred in Act II. On a comical level, Bertman’s production made the audience laugh many times, and Antonina Vesina enchanted with her irresistible vocal acrobatics, especially in the “Hymn to the Sun”. She seemed to sustain her endless high notes without any effort. Her vocal prowess is enough reason to go see this production. The Tsarita’s knowing looks at the audience created some tongue-in-cheek moments.

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In several highly rhythmic passages, in which the Russian male temperament seemed to echo, Statsenko kept up with the fast pace and demonstrated intense stamina. The Russian baritone truly impressed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s vocal demands, while delivering plenty of comedy during his seduction by the Tsarina.

In Act III, the Tsar and his entourage return from Shemakha--in this case with lots of tax free shopping from Paris. Bertman creates a vibrant tableaux vivant with the choir in high gear and a full parade. Renée Morloc demonstrated great comedic timing as Amelfa, the Tsar’s secretary. A rich voluptuous voice with a hint of mischief. With turbo blond hair on top of her head and a big caboose, she played off Stetsenko in highly comedic sexual innuendo. In act III, an exasperated Amelfa devours the now roasted cockerel; Morloc proved herself priceless in this scene.

As golden cockerel, Eva Bodorova dressed up in flashy golden costume that would easily seem at home in a Las Vegas show. The man behind me gasped “geil, a common German word to describe the titillating. Her golden tenue reflected light as she appeared from the sides of the balcony. With her commanding and crisp voice, she drew all the attention to her.

Unrecognisable in his wig and wizarding tenue (one of the imaginative and detailed costumes by Ene-Liss Semper), Cornel Frey offered a creepy, enigmatic air to the Astrologer's voice. Roman Hoza and Corby Welch sang decently. Their mere presence on stage as Tsar’s bumbling offspring added to the political commentary on royal heritage.

Conductor Alex Kober continued to propel the narrative forward in Act III through well paced momentum in the Dusseldorfer Symphoniker. Rimsky-Korsakov’s score consists of lots of exotic colours from the woodwinds. His Sheherazade often came to mind.

In great detail, the conductor punctuated Bertman’s comedy, amplifying the hilarity on stage. Kober effectively balanced the orchestra and the singer, while allowing the choir, prepared by Edward Kurig, to burst with invigorating energy. Although the Russian language was hard to discern.

With a surprising amount of laughs, flashy scenery, and some vocally breathtaking moments, Bertman’s Golden Cockerel comes highly recommended.

David Pinedo

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