glance at the headings above confirms that all these Rachmaninov
operas date from early in his career. All three were completed
before the composer reached his mid-thirties. Although they
lack the sweeping heart-tugging melodies of the piano concertos
and symphonies, there is an appealing lyricism and no lack
of power and drama in the music which is colourfully harmonised
and orchestrated. Naxos is to be congratulated on producing
this valuable concept. The recorded sound is very good and
the artists on the whole distinguish themselves.
Aleko, with a libretto by Pushkin, was a set graduation
exercise for Arensky’s
composition pupils at the Moscow Conservatory in 1892. Rachmaninov’s
setting, written in white heat over fifteen days, won him
a gold medal, publication and performance, in 1893, at the
is considerable orchestral music included in these excerpts
and Nayden Todorov coaxes wonderfully expressive playing
from his Sofia orchestra. Listen, for instance to, ‘Women’s
Dance’ its woodwinds winding sinuously below pizzicato strings.
In contrast, lower strings proclaim the wild ‘Men’s Dance’ assertively
and proudly, the music reaching a barbaric climax. The ‘Introduction’ has
plaintive material for woodwinds soon to be crushed by sinister
malevolent lower string chords rising to a dark crescendo
before a brief redemptive release.
bass Peter Naydenov is splendidly dignified in his woe as
he sings about how his wife had run off with another man.
Bass-baritone Alexander Tekeliev, in the title role, is no
less impressive. He is ardent and poignant, in his recollections
of happier days in his love for Zemfira, the mother of his
child who now yearns for another young gypsy, then showing
heated anger at the thought of his betrayal. The young gypsy,
Boiko Zvetanov, a light youthful-sounding tenor is fervent
enough but a tad shaky in his upper register during his ‘Romance’.
He is joined by the pleasingly-voiced lyric soprano Mariana
Zvetkova in their tense duet before Aleko bursts in thirsting
for their blood. He stabs first the boy then Zemfira as she
mourns her young lover’s death. A remorseful Aleko is ejected
from the gypsy community but an opportunity is missed by
Tekeliev here to colour his voice that much more convincingly.
Miserly Knight has enjoyed something of a revival of
late in a rather dubiously conceived Glyndebourne production
that partners it with Puccini’s one act opera Gianni
Schicchi. This recording features the closing scene
of The Miserly Knight which is darkly powerful and
is highlighted by the commanding performance of bass Plamen
Beykov as the grasping, miserly Baron who refuses to support
his son, a young knight who yearns for life at court. In
front of the Duke, to whom the young knight had appealed,
the Baron even accuses his son of wanting to murder him.
Father and son clash, the Baron throws down his gauntlet;
a duel between father and son is imminent. The Duke is
outraged, banishes Albert and turns on the Baron. At the
climax of this powerful scene the Baron - his succeeding
anger, shaken outrage, and pain and remorse all so palpable
in Beykov’s voice - collapses and dies calling for the
keys of his treasure hoard. The orchestra in its final
gloomy peroration makes no bones about the evil of putting
riches before humanity.
1900 Rachmaninov contemplated the story of Francesca da
Rimini, and, specifically, that part that had attracted
Tchaikovsky. The excerpt on this recording comes from Scene
II of Rachmaninov’s one-act opera. The swirling music of
the Introduction suggests the passionate but turbulent love
of Francesca and Paolo and it leads into the action when
the curtain rises. Paolo is reading, animatedly, to Francesca,
the story of the illicit love of Lancelot and Guinevere.
Both are carried away with its passion. After initial repulses
Francesca gives way to Paolo’s ardour and they embrace passionately
but Francesca’s husband, Lanceotto discovers them and slays
them. Mariana Zvetanov is not only a sweetly-voiced soprano
but big in voice too, her passion thrusting forward strongly
and gloriously meeting tenor, Boiko Zvetanov’s ardent soaring
tones, desperate to break Francesca’s resolve. The orchestral
music suggesting the gathering storm is dark and for Lanceotto’s
anger terrifying. The chorus, of the damned in Hell, piles
terror on terror. The music of this Epilogue just about keeps
to the right side of bathos, as the spirits of Paolo and
Francesca rue their fate.
texts are available as PDF files online from Naxos.
Naxos opera triumph. An intelligent and valuable concept.
All performed with passion and commitment.
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