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RUSSIAN OPERA AT THE BOLSHOI: The Vintage Years
Excerpts from Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov), A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Ludmilla (Glinka), Russalka (Dargomyzhsky), Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina (Mussorgsky), Cherevichki, Eugene Onegin, Queen of Spades and Mazeppa (Tchaikovsky), plus Prokofiev's Vocalise.
Fyodor Chaliapin, Mark Reizen, Ivan Petrov, Maxim Mikhailov, Aleksei Krivchenia, Alexander Ognivtsev, Elena Obraztsova, Grigorii Bolshakov, Pavel Lisitsian, Sergei Lemeshev, Ivan Kozlovsky, Panteleimon Nortzov, Galina Vishnevskaya (singers).
Archive excerpts from the Russian National Archives
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50467-4772-3 [110'00]

 

 

Here is a magnificent treat for all lovers of Russian opera. Do not be misled by the meagre packaging. There are no accompanying notes, merely the barest of track listings (opera only identified; no aria specified, much less orchestra or conductor). Hidden within this though is a real gem.

The 'Song of the Viking Guest' is the first item (Chaliapin – or Shalyapin as he appears here). The song is played against a black-and-white silent film that switches through a variety of scenes. If it is atmosphere the DVDs producers are after, they certainly succeed. There's even footage of scenes being assembled (as if the rest of the DVD is being prepared for) before a sudden and cruel cut to musicians warming up and a brief back-stage conversation leads in to Maxin Mikhailov as Ivan Susanin (from Life for the Tsar) before that character's arrest by the Polish invaders. This is the first of three successive excerpts from Glinka's opera, and make sure you watch out for the massively camp soldiers! Mikhailov then bids farewell to the character Antonida (sung by Nina Guesielnikova). All this in delightful 'almost colour'. Mikhailov is in the age-old tradition of Russian basses - huge voice capable of the utmost tenderness.

The strength of this DVD - or one of them - is the opportunity to compare and contrast great singers. So it is that the third Glinka excerpt has Mikhailov giving way to Mark Reizen for the 'Forest Aria'. Reizen looks astonishingly severe in his prayer to God for strength – this is real Russian singing!.

If there is a complaint to be made, it is that there is only one excerpt from Ruslan and Ludmilla – Alexei Krivchenia as Farlaf in his Rondo. His diction is simply jaw-dropping - taken at a real lick! Improbable moustache, too.

Actually the visual delights of this DVD are almost limitless. The painted set for Darghomizhsky's Rusalka is magnificent for Aleksei Krivchenia's Miller's Aria. It is wonderful, too, to hear this rarity these days. There is a toe-tapping gait to this lovely excerpt that makes me, for one, want to hear more.

But of course Mussorgsky's Boris is going to take up the lion's share and so it does (of Part 1 at least) with five excerpts. First up is Petrov with 'Skorbit dusha', taking his time and letting every word register. His upper notes are huge. Sokolov sings Shuisky very well, but be warned there is some distortion in this track. Alexander Ognivtsev takes the hallucinations in the Clock Scene, a sort of Russian Macbeth. Kozlovsky and Pirogov join forces for the St Basil Scene. There is some flutter, but not enough to detract from the superb children and the effective simpleton of Kozlovsky. Female voices do not figure hugely in Boris, but Elena Obraztsova is a superb Marina, resplendent of voice yet creamy too; Arkhipova excels too in Khovanshchina.

Much of the rest of the DVD is taken up by Tchaikovsky, beginning with a lovely aria from Cherevichki sung by Grigorii Bolshakov. This song of farewell, shot in black and white, emerges most touchingly. The black and white of Pavel Lisitsian's Mazeppa excerpt is crystal clear. This expressive aria makes a gorgeous close to Part I.

Sergei Lemeshev sings Lensky's Aria to begin Part II (the archive footage of this concluding part stretches from 1930s to the 1970s). His fairly bright voice has a simply magical high register.

Kozlovsky's 'turn' is of historic interest. He accompanies himself on the piano before cutting to the stage. His voice is slightly bleaty.

The Prokofiev Vocalise (Kozlovsky with the Moscow Capella Choir) is a curio and great fun, but the footage of Reizen singing aged 90 (!) is wonderful. He takes Gremin's Aria. Although he has trouble with the extreme bass end, he sings marvellously.

Not all is consistently fantastic – Panteleimon Nortzov rushes his Onegin concert performance. Yet counteracting this is Melik-Pashayev conducting Queen of Spades eloquently yet clearly. From this same opera, Vishnevskaya excels. The final track of the DVD is Bolshakov begging Petrova for the secret of the cards (from the same opera). A great way to end a great DVD.

Colin Clarke

Tracklisting:

Part 1:
01 Fyodor Chalyapin - Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov)
02 Maxim Mikhailkov - Life for the Tsar (Glinka)
03 Mikhailkov and Guesielnkova - Life for the Tsar (Glinka)
04 Mark Reizen - Life for the Tsar (Glinka)
05 Aleksei Krivchenia - Russian and Lyudmila (Glinka)
06 Aleksei Krivchenia - Russalka (Dargomyshky)
07 Ivan Petrov - Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
08 Petrov&Sokolov - Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
09 Elena Obrastsova - Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
10 Arkhipova and Piavko - Khovantshchina (Mussorgsky)
11 Grigori Bolshakov - Vakula/Cherevichki (Tchaikovsky)
12 Pavel Lisitsian - Mazeppa (Tchaikovsky)

Part 2:
13 Introduction
14 Sergei Lemeshev - Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
15 Lemeshev and Kozlovski - Tribute to Tchekhov's Widow
16 Ivan Kozlovsky - Vocalise (Prokofiev)
17 Mark Reizen - Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
18 Panteleimon Nortzov - Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
19 Alexander Melik-Pashayev - conducts "Queen of Spades" (Tchaikovsky)
20 Galina Vishnevskaya - Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
21 Maslennikova, Lemeshev and Preobrazhenskaya - Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
22 Bolshakov and Petrova - Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
23 Credits

 

 

 

 



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