We have here to thank the ever busy Valerie Gergiev
for this stunning production of Tchaikovsky’s working of the Pushkin
tale. Gergiev seems to try to record almost every work in the repertoire
of his various ensembles, where the record company is prepare to go
along with his demands.
We all know that the record industry is pulling in
its horns, and yet Gergiev’s releases come out with a regularity which
one would be led to believe that there was no problem. Philips have
us in their debt for the operas of many Russian composers, and the present
issue is no exception. There have been recordings of Pique Dame before,
and it is now even duplicated on DVD.
This is not the same performance as that issued by
Philips on CD in 1992, as some of the principals were different. Also
the CD performance lasts 166 minutes against the current 179 minutes.
The CD however did not include curtain calls at beginning, through and
at the end, so the time differences between the two performances will
not be that significant.
An outstanding feature of this issue apart from the
superb singing and playing is the production. This is of the old Russian
School, which causes British theatre critics apoplexy when the Kirov
Company is out on tour. I would far rather watch this type of production
than the now fashionable idea of having a plain background splashed
with bits of paint, looking quite as though a chimpanzee had been let
loose with a paint brush.
This current issue is in every way a "traditional"
performance and Hooray, say I. Needless to say, Brian Large makes everything
he can of the magnificent setting, making for us a very satisfying opera
This opera has had a very chequered history in recording,
and at last here we have a performance which displays a sweep and epic
atmosphere aided by superb playing and singing. Gergiev keeps the drama
moving and is not afraid to keep the pace moving forward without delay
which prevents stasis from setting in.
The documentation is more than adequate, giving as
it does a track by track analysis introducing each passage by the first
line of the libretto. The good thing about DVD is the ability to choose
to have subtitles or not, and in this respect, Philips have provided
these in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. Being
a Unilingual Brit, I have not tried these out for accuracy but I am
sure like most examples of this type of product, there will be one or
two howlers in there somewhere.
This is, in my opinion, now the most desirable version
in the catalogue of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, and the effect of the
music is enhanced greatly by the superb performance, production and
tasteful camera work of Brian Large.