Rubinstein’s The Demon, Almost Forgotten, Is Rediscovered with a Major European Tour

SpainSpain Rubinstein, The Demon: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Mikhail Tatarnikov (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 5.5. 2018. (JMI)

The Demon © A. Bofill
The Demon © A. Bofill

Demon – Egils Silins
Tamara – Asmik Grigorian
Prince Sinodal – Igor Morozov
Prince Gudal – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
Sinodal’s servant – Roman Ialcic
Angel – Yuriy Mynenko
Tamara’s maid – Larisa Kostyuk
Messenger – Antoni Comas

Director – Dmitry Bertman
Sets and Costumes – Hartmut Schörghofer
Lighting – Thomas C. Hase

These performances of Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon mark the opera’s premiere at the Liceu; it was, however, staged in Barcelona in 1905 at the Teatro Novedades. Although the opera has arrived at the Liceu with some delay, it was well worth the wait.

Rubinstein (1829-1894) was an important musician in his day, alternating his activity as a pianist with conducting and composing. He wrote almost 20 operas; some were lost, and most of the rest have been forgotten. The Demon, which premiered in 1875 at the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, was well received, and it was staged throughout Europe, often in the Italian version. In fact, it was the first opera to reach 100 performances at the Mariinsky. Unfortunately, in the twentieth century it fell into oblivion, and there have been few occasions in recent years to see it. Among them were performances in the 1990s at the Wexford Festival, and at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 2015 with Dmitri Hvorotovsky in the title role. He was to have starred in the Barcelona run, which is now offered as a tribute to his memory.

The opera has many musical strengths and some moments of real vocal brilliance for the main characters. Four European opera houses have joined in this revival, and one can expect a brighter future for The Demon.

Dmitry Bertman’s staging is a fairly simple yet effective one. The set consists of a large wooden tunnel that goes from the front to the back of the stage; at the back is a huge balloon, where images are projected that relate to the atmosphere of the different scenes. The costumes are modern, and the lighting is outstanding.

Bertman’s solid direction focuses the drama on the opposition of the Demon and the Angel, the former aged, with white hair and dressed in black, and the latter the exact opposite. In this production, the part of the Angel is interpreted by a countertenor.

Mikhail Tatarnikov’s reading was admirable, and he conducted with both energy and delicacy, as they were required. I have seen him conducting in Bordeaux and in Vienna and found him excellent in Russian opera, but I was less convinced by his interpretations of Mozart. Here, undoubtedly, he was in his element, and the result was very positive. The orchestra and chorus were both impressive.

The role of the Demon was sung by bass-baritone Egils Silins, who gave a fine performance in terms both of acting and singing. However, Dmitry Hvorotovsky was missed. Tamara was played convincingly by Asmik Grigorian. Her voice is nicely projected, she sings with emotion, and the result here was excellent.

Tenor Igor Morozov gave life to Prince Sinodal, Tamara’s fiancé, who dies at the end of the first act. Alexander Tsymbalyuk, with his ample and attractive bass voice, made a good impression as Prince Gudal, Tamara’s father. Countertenor Yuriy Mynenko did well in the role of the Angel.

Roman Ialcic as Sinodal’s Servant had a somewhat modest voice. Mezzo-soprano Larisa Kostyuk was correct as Tamara’s Maid, and tenor Antoni Comas was a convincing Messenger.

José M. Irurzun

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