A Superb Production of a Glinka Rarity

GermanyGermany  Glinka: Ivan Susanin, Frankfurt Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Sebastian Weigle (conductor), Opernhaus, Frankfurt, 5.11.2015 (JMI)

Copyright: Barbara Aumüller
                                    Copyright: Barbara Aumüller

New Production
Direction: Harry Kupfer
Sets: Hans Schavernoch
Costumes: Yan Tax
Lighting: Joachim Klein
Videos: Thomas Reimer


Ivan Susanin: Sir John Tomlinson
Antonida: Kateryna Kasper
Sobinin: Anton Rositskiy
Vanya: Katharina Magiera
Captain: Thomas Faulkner
Messenger: Michael McCown

I hadn’t been to Frankfurt in almost two years and returned with enthusiasm: there are always interesting operas offered here. On the previous occasion the Frankfurt Opera proudly displayed the Opern Welt title of Opera of the Year, and it does so again, sharing the 2015 honor with Mannheim. It’s an irresistible attraction to be here and to enjoy over three days a true rarity like Ivan Susanin, Die tote Stadt and a new production of Verdi’s Don Carlo.

The original title of Glinka’s Ivan Susanin was A Life for the Tsar, but this title was changed in Soviet times. It makes sense that it’s being done in Frankfurt as Ivan Susanin since this new production takes place during the invasion of Russia by Germany in World War II.

 There are few opportunities to see this Glinka opera  ̶  considered to be the first Russian national opera  ̶  outside his country. I can only remember a concert version three years ago in Montpellier, when it was performed with the original title. It’s great that the Frankfurt Opera has decided to dust off the opera and do a full production. I would only add that various fragments of incidental music have been cut, especially the ballets, except for one in Act II.

 The production is by veteran Harry Kupfer, and it’s an attractive staging. The invaders of Russia are not the Poles from the original but rather the German Wehrmacht. Mr. Kupfer has avoided havinig Nazi uniforms on stage, but he does have the invaders sing in German, and the supertitles substitute Germany for Poland. The main set consists of a large arch in ruins and a few broken bells that evoke an atmosphere of war and destruction. In Act IV, in the forest, this set is masked through lighting and video projections of heavy snowfall; in the short epilogue, there are projections of Red Square in Moscow. The change of time is handled well, and the stage direction is effective, with the crowds moving appropriately.

Frankfurt music director Sebastian Weigle has now held that position for eight years, and with remarkable success. His conducting here was solid and he drew an admirable performance from his orchestra. The chorus had some problems in Act I but then improved.

The part of the protagonist, Ivan Susanin, was sung by veteran British bass Sir John Tomlinson. This artist retains a powerful middle range and the too wide vibrato he showed in recent years now seems to be under control. His performance was very intense and made the character totally believable.

Russian tenor Anton Rositskiy was Sobinin, the head of the partisans, who is in love with Susanin’s daughter. His voice lacks the brightness of Latin voices, but he overcame the difficulties of the score, which are remarkable, with a tessitura that stays much of the time above the passage.

Ukrainian soprano Kateryna Kasper did well in the part of Antonida, the daughter of Ivan Susanin. This character doesn’t have much dramatic interest, but Ms. Kasper handled it nicely with her light-lyric soprano.

Mezzo-soprano Katharina Magiera was Vanya, Susanin’s godson, and she gave an outstanding performance, especially in her aria in the fourth act. She sang with great feeling and made this trouser role credible.

 In the secondary characters, both Thomas Faulkner as Captain and Michael McCown as Messenger were well-suited to their parts.


Jose M. Irurzun





Copyright: Barbara Aumüller

Leave a Comment