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Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
May Night (1878-1879) [123:40]
Levko Vitaly Taraschenko (tenor)
Hanna Natalia Erasova (mezzo)
Pannochka Marina Lapina (soprano)
The Mayor Vyacheslav Pochapsky (bass)
The Distiller Alexander Arkhipov (tenor)
The Mayors sister-in-law Elena Okolycheva (mezzo)
The Clerk Piotr Gluboky (bass)
Kaleni, the Village Drunkard Nikolai Reshetniak (bass)
Sveshnikov Academic Choir/Evgeny Tyrianko
Bolshoi Theatre orchestra/Andrey Chistiakov
rec. 1995, Moscow. Libretto not included
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94036 [65:10 + 58:30]

Experience Classicsonline

As with all Rimsky-Korsakovs operas May Night only has a handful of recordings, among them a Capriccio release under Alexander Lazarev. Thats available as part of a four-opera set review which looks very tempting if you can get it at a good price. Brilliant certainly has a reputation for producing discs on a tight budget and, as Naxos and other lower-price labels have proved, quality neednt be compromised in the process. Thankfully theres no trace of old, Soviet-era sonics here, but Russian vocal traditions take a little longer to adapt. But even if youre allergic to excessive vibrato May Night has enough good tunes to keep you listening to the end.

It certainly starts well enough, with all the sparkle one expects of this composer. As for the Bolshoi band, what they lack in refinement they make up for in animation. The recording is somewhat recessed veiled, even the chorus of villagers sounding a tad fierce in the climaxes. Vitaly Taraschenkos love-sick Levko is pleasing, if plaintive, his serenade to Hanna sung with more ardour than charm. In the ensuing duet, Natalia Erasovas Hanna sounds girlish enough, but theres no disguising her wide vibrato. Its all rather underpowered, Taraschenko struggling under even the slightest pressure; moreover, he delivers his tale of the drowned maiden as an unvarying monologue, quite without life or feeling.

Oh dear, not the most encouraging start. Nikolai Reshetniaks Kaleni the village drunk and Vyacheslav Pochapskys Mayor are adequate although, as with Levko and Hanna, theyre apt to sound monochromatic. And just sample the end of Act I, where Levko tries to enlist the village lads help against his rival in love; really, its hard to imagine a less vital performance than this. Even Rimskys score is drained of its usual piquancy, making one long for the energy and thrust of a Gergiev. As for Act II, the broad comedy of the Mayors dinner with his sister-in-law and the Distiller interrupted by the hapless drunk is painfully short on humour, the band chugging along dutifully in the background. Inexplicably, the trio and village lads song is split between discs one and two, which is both annoying and unnecessary.

May Night isnt Rimskys most inspired opera by any stretch of the imagination, but it deserves a livelier, more committed performance than it gets here. And although Elena Okolychevas sister-in-law breathes some life into the performance its not enough to stop it from flat-lining at times. Yes, the ethereal opening of Act III is atmospherically done how much better it would sound if the orchestra werent so distant and Levko seems much more comfortable at low volume. There is some lovely music here, but its only hinted at, thanks to Chistiakovs workmanlike conducting and a lacklustre recording. Matters improve slightly with the appearance of Pannochka and the dances that follow. That said, rhythms are generally flaccid and, as a whole, the performance never rises much above mediocrity. It certainly doesnt do justice to Rimskys colourful score.

Listening to this May Night on a wet November one makes the experience all the more dispiriting. Indeed, I cant remember an opera recording that fails so miserably and on so many levels as this one. Avoid.

Dan Morgan









































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