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Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tale of Tsar Saltan
Edward Tsanga (Tsar Saltan), Irina Churilova (Tsarita Militrissa), Albina Shagimuratova (Swan-Princess), Mikhail Vekua (Tsarevich Guidon), Elena Vitman (Barbarikha), Varvara Solovyova (Tkachikha), Tatiana Kravtsova (Povarikha), Vasily Goshkov (Old man), Andrei Spekhov (Messenger), Denis Begansky (Jester), Vitaly Dudkin (First shipman), Alexander Gerasimov (Second shipman), Timur Abdikeyev (Third shipman), Artists of the Mariinsky chorus, ballet and extras, Andrei Petrenko (principal chorus master), Irina Novik (ballet mistress), Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Alexander Petrov (stage director), Vladimir Firer (set designer)[after sketches by Ivan Bilibin], Vladimir Firer (costume designer), Vladimir Lukasevich (lighting designer), Anna Matison (video director)
Recording: Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia (July 2015) – 150’
Mariinsky #MAR0597 (Double play: contains Blu-ray and DVD) – 16:9 – All regions – Booklet in Russian, English, French and German - Subtitles in Russian, English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish (Distributed by Naxos of America)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is justly rewarded in this opulent, over-the-top production by the Mariinsky Theatre. When comparing The Tale of Tsar Saltan to The Golden Cockerel a year prior, only a few familiar faces return in the lineup of principal cast members. Most noticeable is the behind-the-scenes power has been better diluted: instead of Anna Matison’s domination over both stage and video, she’s relegated to film edits while pronouncements in Alexander Petrov’s directing and Vladimir Firer’s set/costume designs add to the journey of fantastic allure.

Based on Aleksandr Pushkin’s 1832 poem, this decidedly predictable opera places Rimsky-Korsakov in his own element: Valery Gergiev, an intensely driven conductor by trade, maintains tightness of the orchestra during every twist and turn. Because of the fairy tale at hand, it raises visual factors exponentially by M. Firer’s colorful Russian folk art style in keeping with footings found in 20th century illustrator, Ivan Bilibin.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is effectively rich, allowing a preamble cartoon screening to summarize the action ahead of each act. The way color, action and music commingle makes for a markedly pointed statement, thereby adding cohesion and understandability of the opera (even if one weren’t to read the synopsis in advance)...this is truly a sign of a gifted artist.

Tsar Saltan centers around the unjustly maligned Tsaritsa Militrissa (Irina Churilova): her plenteous low register brings with it lovely legato even though she can surprise with bold remarks in all the right places. Alongside, is her husband, Tsar Saltan (Edward Tsanga) who sings with confident display as he marches off to war.

Tiered directly beneath the couple, we witness Albina Shagimuratova’s magical metamorphosis into a silvery brocaded Swan-Princess…for a nanosecond, one may ponder Turandot, not only because of the regalia but also because of the Swan-Princess’ remark, “Answer my riddle.” Aida Garifullina-like in vocal dynamics with a chrome veil, Mlle. Shagimuratova sprinkles her own spell of mystical delight while being held in rapture by Mikhail Vekua: brightly ebullient, his portrayal of Tsarvich Guidon is that of a confident chap...fearless, not haughty even though the acting points to some inelasticity.

Militrissa’s two evil sisters (Varvara Solovyova and Tatiana Kravtsova) along with Elena Vitman’s inflections as the old hag, Barbarikha, add a nice blend and a menacing sting to the opera. Speaking of stinging, M. Gergiev’s delivery of The Flight of the Bumblebee is remarkably sharp, limpid and coursing at breakneck speed...jaw-dropping!

In the earlier critique of The Golden Cockerel, there was a quandary of irritant surrounding camera edits by Anna Matison. Annoying as that was, this time she’s not as aggressive with her lens…maybe someone talked to her about abusing such a pathway. Within this storyline, however, her corybantic maneuvers are apropos.

“A feast for the eyes”...is the phrase that returns. If enchantment and sumptuousness are grounds for choosing an opera to view, one will not be disappointed in this production of The Tale of Tsar Saltan. A grand level of operatic entertainment!

Christie Grimstad




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