Opera North Concludes Its Trio of Fairy Tale Operas with a Fine Production of Snow Maiden

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rimsky-Korsakov, Snow Maiden (sung in English): Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North / Leo McFall (conductor), The Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, 10.3.2017. (RJF)

Snow Maiden (c) Richard Hubert Smith.
Snow Maiden (c) Richard Hubert Smith.

The Snow Maiden – Aoife Miskelly
Tsar Berendey – Bonaventura Bottone
Bermyata – Dean Robinson
Spring Beauty – Yvonne Howard
Grandfather Frost – James Creswell
Boblyl Bakula – Joseph Shovelton
Boblyikha – Claire Pascoe
Lel – Heather Lowe
Kupava – Elin Pritchard
Mizgir – Phillip Rhodes

Director – John Fulljames
Set Designer – Giles Cadle
Costume Designer – Christina Cunningham
Lighting Designer – Matthew Haskins
Video Designer – Will Duke
Choreographer – Lucy Hind

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden was the third and final opera on offer in Opera North’s Winter Season of Fairy Tale operas. All have been staged in a basic flexible shoebox set by Giles Cradle that somehow offered each director the maximum flexibility for their ideas whilst allowing Opera North to work within budget and also give a performance of the other two operas on one day as a matinee and evening events. I have reported on both the other works and how the directors of each realized their productions within the framework. Whilst I found the use of every modern gizmo from camcorders projections to pads somewhat a trial and overwhelming in Hansel and Gretel, the return to near normality for an everyday staging in a modern dress Cenerentola more acceptable, albeit it was more suitable as a pantomime than in a trilogy of fairy tales. For Snow Maiden John Fulljames’ also updated the setting and costumes, a twentieth century Russian clothing factory. However, he, and his lighting designer in particular, managed, via front and rear gauzes as screen for patterns of snowflakes and a myriad of other relevant projections, to create an ideal fairy tale setting for the story to unfold.

That the story did make sense were further facilitated by the acting and costumes of the participants, with the workers and the Snow Maiden herself always clearly defined so as to make comprehensible the slowly evolving story clear to the audience, aided I must add by some type casting. Thus the fragile Snow Maiden of the slender Aoife Miskelly was costumed very plainly prior to her love affair and marriage, when she became resplendent in a lovely white gown that was discarded as she melted away. I also realised, somewhat late in the proceedings, that her headgear was supposed to be a crown, hardly congruous with her high vis yellow traffic jacket! Little matter when her singing and acting were so consummate, qualities that pervaded the whole cast, with the possible exception of Bonaventura Bottone as the Tsar, but then maybe he was meant to be old and unsteady. Age and looks were ideal as were their sung contributions by Heather Lowe, a perfect androgynous and handsome Lel, Elin Pritchard as a vibrant Kupava who was a handful for whatever man she ended with. Mitgir, strongly sung by Phillip Rhodes had a narrow escape there. As the older Russian hierarchy Snow Maiden’s parents Yvonne Howard and James Creswell were well paired.

Those expecting Rimsky-Korsakov’s music to have the patina of Russian opera of an earlier generation may find the music more drawn out and lacking the rustic vibrancy of Borodin and Mussorgsky. Perhaps they should remember those compositions and performances owed much to the re-orchestrations by Rimsky. Also relevant is, I suggest, the influence of Tchaikovsky on the genre. Yes, there is a fusion of drama with the music, but there are also longueurs when both sag somewhat. In over sixty years of opera going this was my first opportunity to see the work and I am grateful for that and glad, having seen and heard some of the greatest singers in the most famous Russian Operas, to hear it and put it in my personal perspective of the genre.

Robert J Farr

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