Rare Russian Opera Performed in Barcelona

20/04/2014

 Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitesz:, Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus, Josep Pons (conductor), Liceu, Barcelona, 16.4.2014 (JMI)

Svetlana Ignatovich (c) A. Bofill

Svetlana Ignatovich (c) A. Bofill

New Production:
Liceu with Nederlandse Opera and Teatro alla Scala
Direction and sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Costumes: Elena Zaitseva and Dmitri Tcherniakov
Lighting: Gleb Filschtinsky

Cast:
Fevronia. Svetlana Ignatovich
Grischka: Dmitry Golovnin
Prince Yuri: Eric Halfvarson
Vsevolod: Maxim Aksenov
Fiodor: Dimitris Tiliakos
Burundai: Vladimir Ognovenko
Bedia: Alexander Tsymbaliuk
P.Yuri’s Page: Maria Gortsevskaya
Gusli Player: Gennadi Bezzubenkov
Sirin: Larisa Yudina
Alkonost: Margarita Nekrasova
Nobles: Josep Fadó and Alex Sanmartí

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is an important figure in the history of opera, both for his own works and for his orchestration of works by other composers. Rarely performed outside Russia, this opera retells the legend of the medieval city of Kitesz which escaped Tartar attack through the intervention of the Maiden Fevronia. With her prayers she ensured that God would make the city invisible to the invading Tartars. The plot hardly justifies three hours of music, and the few times I’ve seen the opera performed it has always seemed to me too long, especially the last scene in which Fevronia reaches celestial glory.To dedicate no less than twenty minutes of music to this scene is excessive and almost tiring.

Liceu has mounted a new production by Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov, whose work here I found quite surprising, as if he had been converted to classicism after passing through what has been called the Regiekonzept and its excesses. He brings the action into modern times but narrates the story with huge respect for the libretto. In my opinion it is somewhat surprising that these modern Tartars have to resort to traitors to find the way to Kitesz. It’s not difficult to understand it in the Middle Ages, but today we all use GPS and mapping has advanced dramatically.

Mr. Tcherniakov is also responsible for the sets. The design is quite attractive in the first and final acts: a beautiful forest (greeted with spontaneous applause from the audience) that reflects Fevronia’s love for nature, and is the place where she will die. The sets in the other two acts are less attractive ̶ a bar in Act II and a kind of hospital in Act III. Mr. Tcherniakov confronts two opposite worlds here, the world of respect for nature, represented by Fevronia; and the world of human selfishness, represented by both Tartars and Russians. Apart from some incidental excess, there were no provocative details, and Mr. Tcherniakov did great work on stage with both chorus and extras.

I had no big expectations of Josep Pons at the podium since he has little experience in Russian opera, but his conducting was adequate and at times quite good, especially in the final act. The orchestra offered a solid performance, while the chorus was at their usual excellent level.

The cast featured a group of singers familiar with the opera. I missed hearing more important singers in the main roles, with the exception of Prince Yuri who was played by the only non-Russian in the main quartet of singers.

The protagonist, Fevronia, was sung by Svetlana Ignatovich, who offered a very convincing interpretation on stage though less so vocally. Her voice has a certain appeal in the center, not too big in volume, but it falls short on lower notes and is rather tight at the top where the timbre is unattractive.

The character of Grishka Kuterma is a real draw for any tenor, offering ample opportunities to act and to sing. Dmitry Golovnin did well on the acting, but vocally he offered a not particularly attractive and somewhat reduced voice.

Maxim Aksenov performed well as Prince Vsevolod. His voice is not very important although his vocal characteristics are well suited to the character. Eric Halfvarson as Prince Yuri offered the best voice in the cast, but he does not appear on stage until the third act of the opera.

The secondary characters were very well cast. One should note the presence of a sound Dimitris Tiliakos as Fiodor; Vladimir Ognovenko as an excellent Burandai; and Alexander Tsymbaliuk as a remarkable Bediai. Maria Gortsevskaya gave a strong performance as Prince Yuri’s page, and veteran Gennadi Bezzubenkov, Prince Yuri in the Mariinsky for many years, was a luxury as the Gusli Player. Of the two birds, the one announcing death (Alkonost), played by Margarita Nekrasova, was better than the bird anouncing eternity (Sirin), played by Larisa Yudina.

José Mª Irurzun

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