Rimsky-Korsakov, Tsar’s Bride

Went to a Sunday matinée at the Bolshoi today, to see Tsar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov for the second time this year.

Since this is such a rarely-performed opera, but I found the music delightful when I heard it at the Novaya Opera in March, I figured it was worth another listen. Also, since the Novaya’s staging made absolutely no sense, and the Bolshoi is using a sensible 1966 production (which itself was merely an updating of a 1927 staging – indeed, the stage director credited in the program with the production died 11 years before the premiere!), I also thought it might be good to see the opera performed in such a way as I could tell what was happening on stage. It is the least a director can do. Now I finally understand the opera and its plot twists (which are not actually that convoluted, but the Novaya production made them impossible to follow).

That said, the Novaya Opera production I saw in March may actually have been the better performance from a musical standpoint. It certainly had better pacing. The Bolshoi performance this afternoon dragged considerably. Conductor Andrey Anikhanov might get some of the blame, but the singers themselves seemed only to be going through the paces.

The notable exception, and indisputable star of today’s performance, came from Elchin Azizov, in the role of Grigory Gryaznoy. Now that I could finally discern the plot, I know that Gryaznoy is a truly despicable character (in his first aria, at the opening of act one, he laments missing the days when he could rape women on a regular basis). Azizov did not portray him as a one-sided monster, however, but managed to expand the emotional bounds of the role – as desired by Rimsky-Korsakov and developed in the music – to make Gryaznoy’s tangled emotions almost sympathetic (well, actually, he is still a monster).

Of the other characters, Oleg Dolgov as Ivan Lykov took until the third act before he warmed into his role fully. He actually came across quite well in the third act. Unfortunately, Gryaznoy kills Lykov in between the third and fourth acts, so we did not get to hear Dolgov again.  Anna Aglatova as Marfa, the title role, also took a while to warm into her role, and showed her best vocal form after she went insane in the fourth act.

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