Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Iolanta -
Opera in one act Op. 69 [124:42]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Perséphone -
Mélodrame in three acts [56:05]
Iolanta: Iolanta - Ekaterina Scherbachenko (soprano); Vaudémont - Pavel Cernoch (tenor); King René - Dmitry Ulianov (bass); Ibn-Hakia - Willard White (bass); Robert - Alexej Markov (baritone); Bertrand - Pavel Kudinov; Alméric - Vasily Efimov; Marta - Ekaterina Semenchuk; Brigitta - Irina Churilova; Laura - Letitia Singleton
Perséphone: Emolpe - Paul Groves (tenor); Perséphone - Dominique Blanc (actress)
Dancers from Amrita Performing Arts, Cambodia
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real de Madrid/Teodor Currentizis
Peter Sellars (stage director); Georges Tsypin (stage designer)
rec. live, Teatro Real de Madrid, 21, 24 January 2012
subtitles in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian
Audio - Dolby digital and Dolby digital 5.1; NTSC; all regions
TEATRO REAL TR97011 DVD [187:00] 

and Perséphone are amongst their composers’ best works but both have been comparatively neglected. It is good to have them linked here. The former was first performed in 1892 as half of a splendid and generous double bill with The Nutcracker. It has been revived in that form in recent years by Opera North and I have vivid and fond memories of that version. It does make for a long evening but the sheer richness and variety of invention in both works makes it very worthwhile. Iolanta is particularly noteworthy for the subtlety of its scoring and, despite what is said by some critics, its memorable writing. It is extraordinary that it is rarely so performed, at least in Britain. The singing in the present performance is admirable throughout, with idiomatic Russian singing but without the apparent wobble which can put off some non-Russian listeners. Match this with full-blooded playing from the Teatro Real orchestra. The production by Peter Sellars is generally clear although sometimes confused by a bizarre choice of camera angle or subject. I found the scenery, such as it is, merely confusing and uninteresting. It concerned me that there was no feeling of a place cut off from the rest of the world, in which the main male characters apart from the King are invited or uninvited visitors. Overall I found myself looking back with regret to the several more conventional productions that I have seen - including the first British performance which took place as late as 1968. One real oddity - unjustified liberty one might argue - is the inclusion just before the end of an unaccompanied Cherubic Hymn by Tchaikovsky. This is not mentioned in the booklet and as far as I am aware does not appear in any score of the opera nor was its inclusion sanctioned by the composer. Whilst it is unquestionably a beautiful piece and very fervently sung when included here it has a fatally delaying effect on what should be the climax of the opera.
Although Perséphone was intended for the stage it is more often heard in the concert hall - when it is heard at all. It was commissioned by the dancer Ida Rubinstein, who spoke Gide’s text as well as danced, and is a work of transparent beauty and delicacy. Musically this is well realised, with Teodor Currentzis again showing his ability to inspire subtle phrasing and balance from the orchestra. A separate group of dancers representing the main characters is added, all from Cambodia and using the traditional Cambodian style of dance which Pol Pot had attempted wholly to eradicate from that country. Its subtlety and stylised manner suits this work very well and Peter Sellars has matched the underlying character of the work much better than is the case with Iolanta.
This is a generous coupling of two masterpieces and although I have serious reservations about the production of Iolanta I still enjoyed and was moved by this performance; even more so by that of Perséphone. It would have been helpful to have included proper historical notes and a synopsis for each in addition to the producer’s interesting but not wholly helpful comments. A bonus feature comprises simply an unchallenged statement of the producer’s views. Despite this there is plenty here to enjoy, relish even, and rival versions, especially of the Stravinsky, are not thick on the ground.  

John Sheppard
Plenty here to enjoy, relish even. 

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from: