Rimsky-Korsakov, Tsar’s Bride

Although seldom-performed, the Czar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov is currently in the repertory of three different Moscow opera houses.  So I decided to take in my third version in a year, this time at the Gelikon Opera.  The verdict: the Novaya had the best overall musical production but an incomprehensible staging, the Bolshoi had a clear traditional staging but poor musical quality, and the Gelikon ended up somewhere in the middle.

The orchestra sounded a bit raw, and the pacing from conductor Kirill Tikhonov uneven at times, but the opera never dragged (unlike at the Bolshoi).  I think much of the Gelikon Opera had come down with illness, since no fewer than six of the cast were replaced – and not with the B or C cast, but with people whose names had to be literally written into the programs by pencil (I recognized one of the substitutes as a regular member of this company, but obviously tonight performing a role not in his current repertory).  Under these circumstances, the cast did fine, but nothing outstanding – however, when not singing solo but rather in ensemble they blended very well with each other.  Two of the best solo performances came, not surprisingly, from the regularly-scheduled cast: Andrey Bilegzhanin as Grigory Gryaznoy and Mikhail Guzhov as Sobakin.

The Gelikon’s temporary premises during the renovations of its theater remain inadequate.  Nevertheless, the simple but suggestive staging was, under these circumstances, sufficient.  Not many props are needed, so a lavish staging such as at the Bolshoi is not strictly necessary (and I still much prefer simple to silly – such as the staging at the Novaya that made the opera impossible to follow).  However, the director added a non-singing character – a bell-ringer – who started prancing around the stage during the overture for no apparent reason other than to distract the audience, and continued making odd appearances throughout.  Not only did this new character add nothing, but by doing his thing front and center the bell-ringer remained in focus and forced the actual plot to the background.  Indeed, it is telling that the bell-ringer got to take the final individual curtain call, as the supposed star of this production.  Why?

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