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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Le Coq d’Or (The Golden Cockerel) (1906-7)
Libretto by Vladimir Bel’sky based on Pushkin’s "The House of the Weathercock" - fairy tale with a moral - opera in three acts
King Dodon…Albert Schagidullin
Queen of Shemakha…Olga Trifonova
Astrologer…Barry Banks
General Polkan…Ilya Bannik
The Golden Cockerel…Yuri Maria Saenz
Amelfa…Elena Manistina
Prince Guidon…Ilya Levinsky
Prince Afron…Andrei Breus
Chorus of the Mariinsky theatre, St Petersburg
Orchestre de Paris/Kent Nagano
Recorded at the Théâtre Musical de Paris – Châtelet in December 2002
TDK DVD Video DV-OPLCO [108.00]


Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or is most widely known from the composer’s colourful suite based on the music for his tragic-comic, fantasy opera, completed in 1907 and premiered in Moscow in 1909. It was inspired, in part, by events in the Russian-Japanese War of1904 but its political overtones, unflattering to Russia, were softened by the censors. This Paris production is therefore quite apposite in that it is staged by an all-Japanese creative team headed by Ennosuke Ichikawa who first brought such fabulous costumes to the stage of the San Francisco Opera House in 1984. The costumes, incredibly ornate and colourful, become more and more complex and fantastical as the opera proceeds until they reach their perigee in the wedding procession of Act III. The sets are minimal and functional and mainly contrived around a stage-wide staircase. The Queen of Shemakha’s tent, for instance, as seen in Act II, is viewed incomplete, only two imposing, somewhat mysterious and oddly threatening towers of material are glimpse over the horizon of those stairs. Suddenly the tent is whisked skywards to reveal the commanding figure of the Queen dressed like a rose-coloured butterfly, commanding yet alluring, surrounded by subservient maidens and small trees in full blossom. The lighting is moody and subdued.

The part of the Astrologer is written for an unusual voice, a tenor-altino, although it can be entrusted to a lyric tenor possessing a strong falsetto because the part is written in the extremely high register. Barry Banks, in the role, is spot-on, bringing just the right note of flamboyant but hysterical menace to the part. The Astrologer acts as Prologue and Epilogue to the opera and it is he who gives the Golden Cockerel to King Dodon to warn him of invading armies, allowing him to sleep in peace, but in the end assuring his nemesis.

After losing his two sons in the wars, Dodon ventures out to battle himself only to find himself facing the enigmatic Queen of Shemakha. She wastes no time in seducing him and utterly humiliating him. Olga Trifonova in the role loses acting opportunities to show just how much she despises Dodon. Her first top note and several others are insecure but the middle and lower registers of her tessitura are quite lovely. On the other hand, in this scene, Albert Schagidullin shows himself to be a very subdued and idiotic Dodon and his oaken bass voice expressively supple. Yuri Maria Saenz as The Golden Cockerel has a somewhat thankless and repetitive part that calls for a strong soprano voice. She projects her edgy tense call most sturdily.

A very colourful production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s tragic-comic opera. Fun. Recommended.

Ian Lace

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