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Thread: Russian opera on DVD and Blu-ray

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Default Russian opera on DVD and Blu-ray

    Weird, strange beauty.
    Dissonant, halting...
    ...and yet, strikingly beautiful, especially the somber third act.
    To my surprise, I give it an A+, and remember here the extraordinary, pungent libretto, in Anne's farewell to Tom:

    "Every wearied body must
    Late or soon return to dust,
    Set the frantic spirit free.
    In this earthly city we
    Shall not meet again, love, yet
    Never think that I forget."

    Indeed, this one is unforgetable.

    Here is the cover:



    Great performance, excellent acting, singing, staging, everything works.
    I'd buy this one. It's not traditional like the Glyndebourne, but it is fabulous.
    Andrew Kennedy and Laura Claycom are perfect as Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove, and William Shimmel's Shadow is bone-chilling.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    This production, convincingly and imaginatively updated to the US in the 1950s, boasts a fine cast of actor singers, with William Shimell a standout as a particularly Mephistophelean Nick Shadow.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post


    This production, convincingly and imaginatively updated to the US in the 1950s, boasts a fine cast of actor singers, with William Shimell a standout as a particularly Mephistophelean Nick Shadow.
    I really loved this, Natalie, it's outstanding! First, there's the opera itself with its particularly good and poetic libretto, great idea for the source material (have you seen all the paintings?), fabulous music; and then you get a smart production like this one with good singers who can act, the result is extraordinary. Glad that you liked it.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    I really loved this, Natalie, it's outstanding! First, there's the opera itself with its particularly good and poetic libretto, great idea for the source material (have you seen all the paintings?), fabulous music; and then you get a smart production like this one with good singers who can act, the result is extraordinary. Glad that you liked it.
    When I love something I'm watching/hearing for the first time, I'm never sure whether my enthusiasm is for the music or the production. In this case the story really came alive due to the staging and acting - quite a challenge I reckon when you have such oddball characters as Mother Goose and Baba the (bearded lady) Turk to incorporate.

    I'm curious one day to see the version from Glyndebourne based on Hogarth's wonderful series of engravings (are those the paintings you are referring to?)



    It's got very good reviews on Amazon. In fact I'm feeling that one-click urge as I type. Aaargh.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    When I love something I'm watching/hearing for the first time, I'm never sure whether my enthusiasm is for the music or the production. In this case the story really came alive due to the staging and acting - quite a challenge I reckon when you have such oddball characters as Mother Goose and Baba the (bearded lady) Turk to incorporate.

    I'm curious one day to see the version from Glyndebourne based on Hogarth's wonderful series of engravings (are those the paintings you are referring to?)



    It's got very good reviews on Amazon. In fact I'm feeling that one-click urge as I type. Aaargh.
    Oh my, vade retro, Satanás! I need someone to cancel my credit card!
    Yes, here they are:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Rake%27s_Progress
    They were actually the source material for the librettists of the opera, so, it's a fabulous idea to stage the opera based on the paintings and engravings, now you got me really curious. Glyndebourne sometimes hits the target right on the mark.
    I'd love so much to attend the festival someday. I heard that tickets are almost impossible to find and very expensive.

    Oh, and about the music: this one is a beauty. So, it's not just the production. I love Stravinsky anyway (one can tell by my sig), so, no surprise for me that I got so taken by this work.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Oh, and about the music: this one is a beauty. So, it's not just the production. I love Stravinsky anyway (one can tell by my sig), so, no surprise for me that I got so taken by this work.
    Yes, I do too. In fact it was an explosive rendition of the Rite of Spring on TV when I was twelve that got me into classical music in the first place.

    BTW I noticed your sig opening that Rossignol film. My sentiments exactly.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Russian opera on DVD and Blu-ray

    Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel



    The Golden Cockerel or Le Coq d'Or or Zolotoy Petushok is a fantastic fairytale, an idiom that Rimsky-Korsakov was very good at. As it happens I long for The May Night and The Snow Maiden to be issued on DVD (as superhorn), as such magnificent performances as this.

    This performance is from Châtelet, Paris, conducted by Kent Nagano and staged by Ennosuke Ichikawa, who has come up with something between Chinese and Mongolian or what-not, very oriental at least. The setting befits the fairytale very well, if we ignore the frequent referrals to the Tsar. The staging is very impressive.

    The plot is so longwinded that I won't even try to describe it. You can find it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Cockerel. The singers, Albert Schagidullin - King Dodon, Ilya Levinsky - Prince Guidon, Andrei Breus - Prince Afron, Ilya Bannik - General Polkan, Elena Manistina - Amelfa, Barry Banks - Astrologer (who has a high E to sing, albeit in falsetto), Olga Trifonova - Queen of Shemakha and Yuri Maria Saenz - The Golden Cockerel, are excellent.

    The only number I knew from this opera before watching this performance, was the first aria of the Queen Shemakha, sung by Miliza Korjus, years and years ago.

    If you are interested in Russian opera, you will love this (inspite of the superoriental staging), and we are not going to see this one recorded very often!

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    Default Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk



    Continuing from Nina Stemme to the other soprano unknown to me mentioned in the article "What makes a great soprano?", I deal with Eva-Maria Westbroek in the only DVD I could find: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk. If the time-shift of some thousands of years in the recently reviewed Aida didn't bother me too much, moving Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk from the middle of the 19th century to the modern-day Russia took some swallowing, and ultimately left me a bit disturbed. I have seen the opera twice on stage at The Old Finnish National Opera in the eighties, two of the then leading domestic sopranos alternating in the role of Katerina, and it was so strong an experience that I hadn't realised that something as powerful as this could be presented in an opera - and in a completely traditional setting!

    Some history of the work seems to be in order. The composer was 28 years old when the opera was premiered 1934. It apparently had some initial success and was performed even abroad. But, in 1936 Stalin himself saw a performance and soon after it was severely critisized in Pravda as "Chaos/Muddle instead of music". After that it vanished from the stage until the sixties, when Shostakovich made a revised version called Katerina Ismailova. Needless to say, the original is performed nowadays. After the disaster the composer must have felt devastated, subtitling his Fifth Symphony "the practical reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism" - or can we detect some sarcasm here?

    I have no idea how familiar people around the world are with the story. So, I give a brief synopsis. Katerina, a wife of a rich but sexually impotent merchant, is easy prey to Sergey, a farm hand. The couple is discovered in flagrante delicto by Katerina's most obnoxious father-in-law, whom she subsequently poisons. Katerina's husband is also killed after having found Sergey's belt in their bedroom. Katerina and Sergey are married but the wedding banquet is disrupted after a drunkard in search of something to drink finds the corpse of the father-in-law in the cellar and calls the police. In the last act, Katerina and Sergey should be marching toward Siberia with a host of other prisoners, Sergey finding a new love and Katerina pushing her in an icy river but falling in herself, both drowning. This ending, however, wasn't good enough for the director Martin Kušej. Instead the last act here is situated in a prison (camp?), Katerina strangling her rival and getting lynched by the other prisoners. Here, at least the words sung about the current being too strong to try to rescue them clash with the action.

    This performance comes from De Nederlandse Opera 2006 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. The opera has several important orchestral interludes (like Peter Grimes), so having an excellent orchestra is essential. What about the singers then? Eva-Maria Westbroek as Katerina gives a strong performance both vocally and as an actress, but the question remains: is there something special in her singing to justify her inclusion among the five great sopranos? If there is, I must have missed them. There must be hundreds of good sopranos out there at least her equal, if not better. Presenting her as a platinum blonde - a kind of over-ripe Marilyn - with a passion for shoes resembling Imelda Marcos doesn't help to make her any more convincing. What she achieves is rightly due to her singing and acting, but at least based on this sole experience, there is nothing exceptional here.

    Sergey, Christopher Ventris, has a suitable tenor voice for the role and an apt devil-may-care attitude for his character, still showing fervent passion where needed, and not overdoing it. Ludovit Ludha with his high tenor voice (a referral to his poor sexual performance?) is exactly right as the weak husband. Vladimir Vaneev succeeds disgustingly well to portray the father-in-law, making one wonder why he wasn't poisoned earlier? He also sings in the last act, as one of the prisoners. There are many more minor roles that could be mentioned, Carole Wilson as Aksinya, who in this version is publicly raped, although only teased by the workmen in the original, and Alexandre Kravets as the drunkard who pees all around the stage and has general difficulties to keep his trousers from falling to his ankles, and Nikita Storojev as the Chief of Police, and Alexander Vassiliev as the lecherous priest.

    Katerina's house is a glass cubicle without furniture. So, it's easy enough for everybody to see what's going on. At the wedding banquet, the drinks are served in plastic mugs, which doesn't bother anyone, since the guests are drunk enough not to care anyway. The scene at the police station is the only really comical one, the Chief having hurt his feelings, because he hasn't been invited to the wedding. Well, he will have a reason to attend in his official capacity.

    The final verdict: sex, murders and vodka. A possibility to experience "a great soprano".

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Rimsky-Korsakov: May Night



    When I started to watch this, my jaw dropped. I thought: what is this? Some kind of a joke? A provincial school play? The easiest thing would have been to say: stay away from this, this is a complete disaster, unless you have money to burn(like I...) or you are a Russian opera fanatic. My first experience with May Night was the recording (LPs) which the DG issued in the LP era. And I liked it. I had already read about it in The Kobbe, my operatic Bible back then. It's hard to recognise this production as the same work described there. Or the opera on those DG records. This production comes from The Moscow Academic Music Theatre 2008(!)...

    This is certainly not what we are now used to see and hear on opera DVDs. I think there are two stationary microphones far away from the stage, but close to the coughing audience, although they seem to get better as the performance goes on - I mean the audience. During the overture archive material of happy farming life of the soviet era is shown... Might be self irony, who knows? The opening chorus comes with people dressed in peasantlike, but also with others who look like office workers from the fifties. When the principal tenor Levko (Oleg Polpudin) appeared, my first thought was: Oh, Lord, what a fatso! And a man so young! But when he begins to sing, the extra kilos don't seem matter so much any more. He is, in fact, a completely plausible tenor. With some bariatric surgery, who knows what might become of him? His fiancee-to-be, Hannah (Natalia Vladimirskaya), is not bad, either - if not our beloved Anna T! Levkos's father, the mayor (Dmitry Ulyanov), fairs well enough. Then we have the compulsory village fool and drunkard, Kalenik (Anatoly Loshak), also acceptable. The mayor's sister-in-law (Irina Chistyakova) is closer to the Russian female singers we were used to earlier. So is Pannochka (Valeria Zaytseva), the leader of the water-sprites. The distiller (Vyacheslav Voynarovsky) - another tenor - is even more rotund than Levko. All in all, the singers succeed partially to redeem this monstrosity of a performance. It goes without saying that we see a motorcycle and an assault rifle among the props. I'm sure Rimsky would have appreciated that.

    If you really want to hear the opera, I would strongly suggest the above-mentioned audio recording conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev, which is now available on CD. I think the record company is Relief and it's certainly a relief to listen this version after the DVDs, although the sound is far from ideal and tends to get distorted in anything above forte. Still, an added reverberance gives an extra magical touch to the rusalki, for example, and the orchestral details come across clearly.

    The music itself is mostly very beautiful, the folksier, the better. There are even some lively ensembles worth hearing - reminding me of Mozart and Rossini, no less. The most beautiful music is reserved for the leading couple and the rusalki.

    The final verdict: wait for the Mariinski version (if they are ever gonna do one), listen to the CD version, or just pass!

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    Default Gogol

    Have you read Gogol's Maya notche? To understand the opera it's better to read this awesome book (a short story).

    Martin

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    Mariinsky?????? Gergiev???? Niet! Have pity!

    I like this DVD...I am not too demanding...I bought much worse in The House of the opera...

    Martin

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    Default Ruslan and Lyudmila



    I enjoyed the singing, the truly opulent production, the music and the whole experience immensely, but I have two caveats:

    1. The sound balance was very variable. When the singers were at the back they were very quiet, and the orchestra was too loud. I had to keep fiddling with the volume control on my headphones.

    2. The acting was fairly minimal and predictable, no character exploration or development, and what you could call stock expression of the various emotions. I guess it's partly because it's older and maybe the culture of the theatre, I don't know.

    But it's still a truly beautiful and faithful depiction of the opera: Gergiev in his interview said the production was based on the original sets and costumes.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post
    But what we have here is the young Anna Netrebko!

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    Moderator mamascarlatti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herkku View Post
    But what we have here is the young Anna Netrebko!
    Well she was lovely, when you could hear her. And there was no flinging herself around the stage, she was weighed down by about 5 tons of headdress and wig.



    And don't forget that I'm female, I'm usually more interested in the baritone.
    Natalie

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mamascarlatti View Post


    I enjoyed the singing, the truly opulent production, the music and the whole experience immensely, but I have two caveats:

    1. The sound balance was very variable. When the singers were at the back they were very quiet, and the orchestra was too loud. I had to keep fiddling with the volume control on my headphones.

    2. The acting was fairly minimal and predictable, no character exploration or development, and what you could call stock expression of the various emotions. I guess it's partly because it's older and maybe the culture of the theatre, I don't know.

    But it's still a truly beautiful and faithful depiction of the opera: Gergiev in his interview said the production was based on the original sets and costumes.

    Yes, I can agree with that. Still, what's great about it combined with the thrill of hearing such a rarely performed and recorded, but important work in a staging that the composer would recognize makes it easy to forgive those things.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

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