Vlad Disney does Tsar Saltan

Rimsky Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan doesn’t get a lot of performances outside Russia and there’s only one video recording in the catalogue.  It was recorded in 2015 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 2015 and is now available as a dual format DVD/Blu-ray package.  It’s a curious work.  It’s based on a Russian folk tale based poem by Pushkin turned into an opera libretto in a prologue and four acts by Vladimir Belsky.  It’s quite odd in that much of it is in a simple strophic form similar to the “wedding song” that Mandryka sings in Strauss’ Arabella.  I have no idea if this is typical of Slavic folk song but it’s a bit repetitive especially when coupled to Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourful but not especially interesting music.  The music is actually rather better in the orchestral interludes, notably the famous Flight of the Bumblebee and some of the choruses which are grand in the Russian manner.

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Straightforward Gambler from the Mariinsky

The 2010 recording of Prokofiev’s The Gambler from the Mariinsky Theatre is a bit of a mixed bag.  It’s a complicated opera about obsession and power and it needs a strong production and a director who can get coherent performances out of a large cast to fully succeed.  Temur Chkhiedze doesn’t really manage it.  The production is very straightforward, set in slightly abstracted versions of a hotel, a casino etc and at times it is brought to life by the clever lighting of Gleb Fishtinsky but it doesn’t do enough to establish any real purpose for the piece.  It’s not helped by some very broad acting, especially from Sergei Aleksaskin’s General which is further emphasized by video director Laurent Gentot’s heavy use of close ups.

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Spectacular Die frau ohne Schatten from the Mariinsky

Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten is a problematic work on many levels.  Hofmannsthal’s complicated and heavily symbolic libretto places considerable demands on both audience and director.  There are ideas about women, marriage and child bearing in the libretto that sit very uncomfortably with modern audiences.  It’s also a beast to cast requiring not just a truly Helden tenor and soprano but a second soprano of almost equal heft who can handle some fairly tricky coloratura.  It’s also long and requires a large orchestra.  In some ways it’s surprising that it gets performed as often as it does although when done well it’s a piece of quite extraordinary beauty and power.

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