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Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Semyon Kotko - an opera in five acts, Op. 81 (1939)
Libretto by S. S. Prokofiev and Valentin Katayev
Based on Katayev's story 'I am a son of the working people'
N. Gres (tenor) - Semyon
T. Yanko (mezzo-soprano) - Semyon's mother
T. Antipova (soprano) - Frosya
G. Troitsky (bass) - Remeniuk
N. Panchekhin (bass) - Tkachenko
A. Klescheva (mezzo-soprano) - Khivrya
L. Gelovani (soprano) - Sofya
M. Kisilev (baritone) - Tsaryov
T. Tugarinova (soprano) - Lyubka
N. Timchenko (tenor) - Mikola
D. Demyanov (bass) - Ivasenko
M. Shchavinsky (tenor) - Workman
V. Zakharov - Von Wierhof
German officers - N. Brilling / L. Neverov
Two Haydamaks - A. Lokshin / G. Ostrovsky
Bandura player - B. Dobrin
Women, old men, Semyon's companions
USSR Radio Choir
USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mikhail Zhukov
Rec. studio, Moscow, 1960. ADD mono
Sound Engineer: Aleksandr Grosman; Pete Reynolds.
CHANDOS CHAN 10053 [3CDs: 77:10+53:27+52:08]

The genesis of Semyon Kotko, its problematical performance history and subsequent almost total eclipse from the stage was detailed in editor Rob Barnett’s review of the opera recently on this site and rather than retell the tortuous and wretched story I direct you there. The most important feature of Chandos’s reissue is that Mikhail Zhukov was the conductor for the work’s premiere at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow in June 1940. This recording was made twenty years later and Chandos’s booklet, all 124 not very well bound pages of it, give the English and the Cyrillic texts side by side – as Rob noted the Cyrillic is not transliterated. The sound quality is splendid however; for a Russian recording fully forty plus years old there is none of that Melodiya crudity, or bizarrely flat spatial perspectives. It’s an honest theatrical perspective and the tapes have come up sounding very well indeed. No problems on that score.

There are however problems about the opera. The propagandist element is restrictive and some of the action barely tolerable. For all that nothing could ever quite efface Prokofiev’s talent and in this, the fifth of his eight operas, he is still capable of acute settings and melodic impress. There’s some jaunty expectation in the opening scenes, and some expertly judged string figuration – ghostly shudders – in anticipation of Semyon’s reuniting with his mother, whilst Prokofiev gives a pesky bassoon part to the nosy neighbours. The orchestral part is full of such subtleties of characterisation – from Semyon’s own motif and the string cantilena that announces the love music to the vigour of the music that animates the defiance of the peasants. The Garden scene is especially beautiful and gives me, at least, intimations of the kind of work Prokofiev might have written, had the libretto and plot been less circumscribed. Elsewhere the Betrayal and Mad musics do have a powerful resonance and charge – they carry also some ghostly imprint of Boris Godunov - as does the lower brass writing in the Farewell scene and the stirring use to which Prokofiev puts the chorus. But the work sadly loses focus and impetus half way through the Third Act and the ending is untheatrical and anti-climactic.

The performances are genuinely fine. Gres makes a notably convincing Semyon and his colleagues are equally committed, their techniques quite capable of sustaining Prokofiev’s demands with characterful orchestral soloists and a master hand on the rostrum. I have strong reservations about the opera as a work of art but few about the performances, the recording or Chandos’s first class retrieval of this set.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


CD1 [77:10]

1 Introduction - Andante 3:37
Act I
Tableau 1
2 In front of Semyon's cottage 1:49
Scene 1
3 Semyon: 'A soldier came back from the front' 4:11
Scene 2
4 Mother: 'Who d'you want?' 4:03
Tableau 2
Scene 1
5 Second woman: 'The soldier Semyon Kotko has come back' 2:00
Scene 2
6 Frosya: 'He's woken up, he's got dressed' 1:53
Scene 3
7 Semyon: 'Good day, friends and neighbours' 3:11
Scene 4
8 First woman: 'We are very pleased to see you again' 1:53
Scene 5
9 Semyon: 'A soldier came back from the front' 5:38
Scene 6
10 Sofya: 'It's papa coming back from the market' 2:59
Scene 7
11 Remeniuk: 'Greetings, soldier! Welcome home!' 6:52
Scene 8
12 Frosya: 'The sound of the rain' 3:19
Scene 9
13 Mikola: 'Frosya!' 3:15
Scene 10
14 Semyon: 'Mother ... Mother' 2:04

Act II
Scene 1
15 Tkachenko: 'I can't understand it' 2:47
Scene 2
16 Tkachenko: 'Khivrya! What's that?' 1:38
Scene 3
17 Remeniuk: 'We've got business with you' 2:04
Scene 4
18 Remeniuk:'A young prince' 2:40
Scene 5
19 Tsaryov: 'We get the same sort ...' 3:43
Scene 6
20 Tkachenko: 'Women's tears!' 4:43
Scene 7
21 Three women etc: 'The groom is coming' 4:11
Scene 8
22 German NCO: 'Morgen!' 3:58
Scene 9
23 Interpreter: 'To eat?' 4:19
CD2 [53:27]

Act II (continued)
Scene 10
1 Remeniuk: 'Did you see me?' 5:17
2 A little garden alongside Tkachenko's cottage 1:40
Scene 1
3 Sofya: 'I had the same dream again' 3:24
Scene 2
4 Tkachenko: 'Sonya! Is that you?' 3:37
Scene 3
5 Tsaryov: 'So it's the young prince!' 2:45
Scene 4
6 Frosya: 'I had a dream, Mikola' 3:11
Scene 5
7 Mikola: 'Early, early in the morning' 1:54
Scene 6
8 Tkachenko: 'I can't hear anything ...' 4:46
Scene 7
9 Mikola: 'Uncle Tsaryov ... Uncle Tsaryov ...' 3:42
Scene 8
10 Workman: 'Permettez-moi de parlais français' 4:27
Scene 9
11 Tkachenko: 'Permit me to present for your perusal' 1:02
Scene 10
12 Lyubka: 'No, no, that wasn't my Vasilyok' 2:14
Scene 11
13 Semyon: 'So things turn out ...' 1:59
Scene 12
14 Mikola: 'Uncle Semyon ... Uncle Semyon' 1:36
Scene 13
15 Sofya: 'Oh, Frosechka, it's terrible ...' 3:00
Scene 14
16 First Haydamak: 'The swine!' 8:38
CD3 [52:08]

Act IV
Tableau 1
Scene 1
1 Mikola: 'Oh my God, my God, forgive me' 3:55
Scene 2
2 Remeniuk: 'So ... So ...' 4:41
Scene 3
3 Chorus: 'When I die, bury me in a grave' 5:37
Tableau 2
Scene 2
4 Semyon: 'That means ... that means ...' 3:04
Scene 2
5 Semyon: 'Then we've got ...' 0:21
Scene 3
6 Mikola: 'Cu-ckoo. Cu-ckoo' 8:54
Scene 4
7 Remeniuk: 'Eh!' 5:17
Act V
Scene 1
8 Bandura player: 'Oh woe, bitter woe!' 4:24
Scene 2
9 Mother: 'Semyon!' 4:57
Scene 3
10 Tkachenko: 'He, he, he!' 5:01
Scene 4
11 Tkachenko: 'So now, stand up, my friends' 4:45
Scene 5
12 Chorus: 'The cavalry flies over a free Ukraine' 0:57


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