Rimsky-Korsakov, Tsar’s Bride
After never seeing it at all before, I have now managed to see the Tsar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov four times in the last year and a half. This is a seldom-performed opera, which should really be more-often performed. So it when another performance popped up unexpectedly on the schedule as a late addition tonight, I snagged a ticket.
The Rostov Opera, from Rostov-on-Don, came on tour to Moscow and performed in the Stanislavsky Theater. Overall, for a provincial opera company, the Rostov made a good showing. I did not understand the overall concept of the staging, except that it did allow more focus on the music, so if that was the intention then it succeeded. Instead of sitting in the pit, the orchestra sat on the back half of the stage. Until late in Act Three, the orchestra pit remained covered, allowing the cast to give most of the performance from in front of the orchestra (a smaller amount of the action took place on a raised platform behind the orchestra). Costumes were traditional, props were simple, and the scenery consisted in only two onion-domes (without the church underneath them) hanging in the back of the stage. The stage direction was either poorly thought-through, or badly carried out – for example, when the company made a toast, but the waiters did not manage to serve everyone in time for them to actually toast with goblets in their hands (hint: send the waiters on stage a little earlier).
At the end of Act Three, during Marfa’s wedding to Ivan Likov, when the announcement comes that Ivan the Terrible has chosen that Marfa become his bride instead, the Tsar’s henchmen restrained the guests while the orchestra pit opened, and Marfa descended literally into the pit. The pit remained open for Act Four, allowing Marfa to once again literally descend into the pit during her mad scene. That seemed to be the only concept here.
Natalya Dmitriyevskaya portrayed Marfa well, particularly getting her descent into madness right. Pyotr Makarov as Grigory Gryaznoy had an extremely warm and peasant voice, but too much so to fully convey the evil within his character. The finest performance in the cast came from Nadezhda Krivusha as Lyubasha, a highly-conflicted woman who starts and ends as a victim of Gryaznoy but in the middle causes mayhem. Krivusha managed to convincingly represent the contradictory tendencies and nuances within this woman.
Aleksey Shakuro conducted a well-paced performed. Unfortunately, since the director forced him to put the orchestra on the stage instead of in the pit, he obviously felt he had to subdue the orchestra in order to keep it from overwhelming the singers. This meant that we did not get to hear the full lushness of Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. Even during the overture and orchestral interludes, when the orchestra had no singers to overwhelm, Shakuro still kept them bottled. This was especially noticeable with the brass, which was, rather unusually, hardly audible.