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S&H International Opera Review

An iced confection for the Easter Holidays
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden)

(concert version) Orchestra and Ensemble of the Young Soloists of the Mariinski Opera/
Valery Gergiev, The Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, 6th May 2002 (NM)

 

The annual Easter Treat for the Romanov Royal Family was a fabulous jewellery egg - each year on a different theme, but always a glittering triumph of technical and artistic mastery. The audience who packed-out the Conservatoire Great Hall on May 6th received a treat that was no less spectacular or festive. The concert was part of the Moscow Easter Festival, of which Valery Gergiev is also Artistic Director, as well as substantial contributor.

The Snow Maiden is a work traditionally associated more with New Year festivities than with Easter, and even here in Russia it is rarely performed in a staged version - the Bolshoi's production has not been seen in several years now. In many ways this is not surprising, because as a dramatic work it has to be said that it's entirely lacking in drama. The story is hardly an involved one - it seems more frozen in time on some exquisite Russian lacquerwork box. Grandpa Frost and Spring are old, and have no children, so to entertain themselves one day, they make a Snowman - or rather, a Snow Girl - and then go home for supper. The next day, however, she has become real - a live girl, but with a heart and emotions of ice. She grows prodigiously quickly, and (this being Russia) all the village boys and men fall instantly in love with her. This is received less well by their former wives and girlfriends however, and there is much unpleasant falling-out over the amount of attention the newcomer is getting, with men throwing-over their whole family lives in the hope of securing her as their bride. Finally one suave (and single) young shepherd wins her heart, but in dancing with her over the bonfire to mark their wedding night - she melts.

Rimsky's orchestration is demanding, but the Mariinski Orchestra responded with the energy and enthusiasm of a steeplechaser that jumps for sheer joy of its own ability over the hurdles, and the sparkling textures kept the audience's interest in this slightly over-written work. Indeed the temperature inside the hall was in the lower C20's after a scorching day of sunshine - and after warm work as Spring, Marianna Tarasova was observed (by those in the front rows) to steal the Leader's handkerchief from his pocket, mop her brow, and then replace it. The soloists had all been prepared by Larissa Gergieva, the conductor's sister, and the consistency of technical and stylistic approach was as dazzling to behold as it was delightful to hear. Ildar Abdrazakov made rather heavy weather of Grandpa Frost, but Kirill Dushechky turned-in a mirth-laden portrayal as the goofy Bobyl.

Daniil Shtoda is something of a "find" as King Berendei - he has a sweet and superbly-focussed tenorino voice that he uses with wise caution for one so young, never forcing the tone, yet ringing through the orchestral texture with immaculate bel-canto technique. Roll-on the productions that give him to us as Fenton or MacDuff. The rival suitors were Alexander Gerlagov as a rather woolly-sounding Mizgir, and a luscious and lusty trousers-role from Ekaterina Semenchuk as Lel The Shepherd, who won the hearts of more than merely the Snow-Girl. In the title role Ol'ga Trifonova excelled - although a couple of uncleanly-approached upper notes indicated that she was not feeling well, and indeed she appeared to be in some discomfort throughout the evening.

The Mariinski Chorus gave of their best from their highly unideal location behind the cellos, basses and percussion sections. Yet the hero of the evening must remain Gergiev himself, to maintain the linear interest and attention in music which was originally written to accompany a chocolate-box production of unending new and exotic visual delights. To have conjured these up from the music alone is a triumph indeed.

Neil McGowan


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