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Nikolai Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 - 1908)
The Tsarís Bride, opera in 4 acts (1898) [142.31]
Text: Rimsky-Korsakov and I. F. Tyumenev, after L. A. Mey.
Marfa - Natalya Spiller
Grigory Gryaznoy - Pyotr Mevdvev
Lyubasha - Maria Maksakova
Vasily Sobakin - Maxim Mikhailov
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow/Lev Steinberg
Recorded Moscow, Russia, 1943 ADD
Notes in Cyrillic Russian and English. Synopsis, no libretto. Photos of star singers, set.
GREAT HALL MVI CD 053-054 [75.33 + 66.58]

 

Other recording available:
Valery Gergiev, Borodina, Hvorostovsky, Kirov Opera, (2) Philips 462 618

Those who are rapturously in love with Rimsky-Korsakovís Scheherazade and other colourful orchestral showpieces are often disappointed in his operas. Opera in Russia at that time was an entertainment not taken very seriously by much of anyone. Nevertheless, there are many small diamonds to be found in the operas of Rimsky Korsakov ó the "Song of India" from Sadko, the "Flight of the Bumblebee" from Christmas Eve, the "Hymn to the Sun" from Coq díOr.

When I approach a recording of an opera I donít know at all, I subject it to the cruellest of tests: I make no attempt to follow the story, and just put the records on and let them play through while I work on something else. I dare the music to get and keep my attention, and this opera passed this test very well. The opera opens with a turbulent overture reminiscent of the composerís early symphonies ó the orchestral style throughout is much more classical in feel, avoiding the lush orientalism of Coq díOr. We are at once gripped by Grigory Gryaznoyís powerful and beautifully sung opening soliloquy. The polyphonic choruses are enthusiastic; one of them uses the familiar hymn from the coronation scene from Mussorgskyís Boris Godunov. The arias are lyrical and entertaining even without knowing the text, and as usual with Russian recordings of this period the words are so clear you can see the Cyrillic text pass by in your mind even if you donít know all the words. All in all, this work is enjoyable as a Russian symphony, as absolute music, which is a good thing, since the plot of The Tsarís Bride could almost be a satire on gruesome Russian historical tales.

The beautiful Marfa, betrothed to Lykov, has the misfortune to be desired by both Ivan the Terrible and his henchman, Grigory Gryaznoy. The jealous Lyubasha determines out of spite to destroy Marfa by poison and she succeeds in driving her mad. Meanwhile Gryaznoy has had Lykov tortured to death. The insane Marfa, now the Tsarís bride, imagines her true lover beside her. Gryaznoy kills Lyubasha and is dragged off to execution.

From these strong primary colours of feeling the composer has built a magnificent score, worth hearing independent of the story. Others have said this is musically the best of Rimsky Korsakovís operas and from my experience I find this credible. The Gergiev recording (which I have not heard) features Hvorostovsky and Borodina but could hardly be any better sung than this one. Everyone here is in excellent voice and their passionate commitment makes the story almost believable. The transfer is remarkably good, thoroughly enjoyable, sounding better than LPs from the same period; if you have the LPs of this performance, you will value this transfer. The background is very quiet; there is some barely audible crackling on loud notes, but everything has been so skilfully processed there is no stridency or artificiality to the sound.

Paul Shoemaker


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