Recorded on the occasion
of the 300-year anniversary of the founding
of St Petersburg, Grétry’s opera
on Peter the Great is a vaudeville that
offers plenty of scope for comedy –
the great man disguises himself to live
as a regular member of his populace.
And really one should be grateful this
is here at all. Grétry’s discography
is hardly huge, after all.
I confess I had not
noticed the little line on the back
of the box that this is ‘Sung in French,
Dialogues in Russian’ so it all came
as a bit of a shock that this is a bilingual
performance. Still, I had my subtitles.
Except – well, a French line squeezes
in, intact, and at one point a Japanese
character nestles happily amongst some
If it sounds as if
I’m coming down hard on the DVD production
values, I believe I have full justification.
There are no DVD ‘extras’ (ironically
this is an instance where it would be
a good place to have them!), although
the (uncredited) booklet notes are for
once quite full and interesting. The
total playing time is a mere one-and-a-half
hours, yet the DVD appears to retail
at Arthaus’s full price.
The company appears
to have toured with this production
too, appearing at Salamanca in June
2003. Certainly the timing of all concerned
is excellent, the ensemble pieces slick
as can be. The orchestra is a good one
(especially fine string definition),
injecting plenty of energy into the
overture; indeed, sometimes one is led
to think the Helikon’s band represents
the best aspect of this DVD. The video
synch is not 100% here, although we
see enough to know that Sergey Stadler
is a time-beater and not much else.
The story concerns
Peter the Great who had disguised of
himself as a carpenter to work on the
first ship of his empire. A common girl,
elevated in position because of Peter’s
presence, is another popular plot-twist
that is present. Catherine, who represents
the Enlightenment idea of elevating
the poor, becomes the logical extension
of Peter (Pierre).
Staging is such that
one suspects their budget was stretched,
Paintings of boats hang down to suggest
the sea as the on-board chorus sings
(not entirely agreeing when to with
the orchestra, though). The chorus’s
comical ‘decorating’ movements certainly
help the amusement factor.
There are amusing producer-led
moments throughout – Lefort conducts
the orchestra (!) to start the duet
between Pierre and himself, ‘Oui, tes
services, à constance feront
ma gloire’), for example.
Pierre is sung by a
rather effeminate Maxim Mironov, not
so hot on long notes and rather wobbly,
but he has the screamingly high note
that tops (literally!) his air, ‘Je
is an expressive Catherine, her intervals
cleanly negotiated and her cadenza in
Arietta, ‘Oui, mes amis’ is very effective
(the end of the aria has a whiff of
the Queens of the Night about it). Her
duet with Pierre in the Duo, ‘Je vais
munir’ is a particular highlight; more,
her sadness when she is abandoned on
the day of her wedding is eminently
believeable. The Caroline is Ekaterina
Oblezova, who is remarkably elegant
in her Mozartian Air, ‘J’étais
au bord de la Fontaine’.
The character of Georges
is amusing (Mikhail Davidov), his hair
presumably purposefully done to make
him look like Beethoven, although the
chorus’s Monty Python-ish movements
in his Ariette, ‘Morgué sans
m’avanter’ could easily have been dispensed
conductor, Sergey Stadler, by the way,
is the soloist in the violin solo, and
very good he is too.
Is it worth the price?
Probably not in the final analysis although
it is worth a look if you can hire it.