Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is a rather odd opera. It’s set in some sort of idyllic pre-Christian Russia where the tsar is approachable, just and benevolent and the people spend most of their time drinking and having sex. Into this world comes Snow Maiden, the fifteen year old daughter of Winter and Spring. Her parents have various things to do and so decide to park the girl with the local peasantry. Various romantic complications ensue involving a rather nasty, rich merchant Mizguir and the mysterious Lel, who may be a shepherd but likely isn’t mortal either. The mating behaviour of the locals confuses Snow Maiden as she is incapable of falling in love. Eventually Spring grants her that faculty and she gives herself to Mizguir, while really wanting Lel, but the rays of the sun on the first day of summer melt her. The natives ignore her death and get on with singing and dancing.
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.
Elena Tsallagova and Sandra Horst entertained the crowd in the RBA yesterday with a flower themed recital of French and Russian songs. It was a very well chosen selection that allowed Ms. Tsallagova to display her versatility. From Debussy’s quite operatic Rondel chinois, where she showed a lot of power for a young lyric soprano, through the varied moods of Bizet’s Feuilles d’album where by turns she was dramatic, sombre and very playful. Throughout she was extremely demonstrative while managing excellent phrasing and impeccable French. She has an interesting range of colours too, from extremely bright through to quite covered and dark and she’s not afraid to use them. Actually, the way she threw herself into the material I don’t think she is afraid of much!
There may be cheerful songs in Russian but I’m not sure I have ever heard one. Certainly there were none on offer at the Four Seasons Centre today when Ekaterina Gubanova and Rachel Andrist offered up a recital of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky works. There’s a reason why one of three Russian words I can recognize is “Schmert”. Depressing as the texts may have been these were truly wonderful performances. Gubanova has a dark, very Slavic colour though she can brighten it when she chooses and she’s utterly fearless singing with great passion and, yes, there was a high C in there.