The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
Ignatovich, Check, Nekrasova; Daszak, Aksenov, Markov, Vaneev, Ognovenko, Jerkunica; Chorus of the Netherlands Opera, Netherlands Philharmonic, Albrecht. Production: Tcherniakov. Opus Arte 1089D (2 DVDs), 207 mins., subtitled
This superb DVD set of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's late masterpiece The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia documents the acclaimed 2012 production in Amsterdam by Dmitri Tcherniakov.
As with the extraordinary Prince Igor director/designer Tcherniakov offered the Met this season, those expecting traditional folk imagery will go wanting — though the set for Fevronia's forest retreat, revisited in Act IV's dream-of-Paradise-as-dacha-wedding is more attractive than anything the director furnished in his 2001 Mariinsky Kitezh, set in a Metro stop. The creatures Fevronia tends in Act I are all human; the legendary birds Sirin and Alkonost (Jennifer Check and Margarita Nekrasova, both excellent vocally) appear as comforting old ladies.
Conductor Marc Albrecht elicits strong performances from relatively unknown leads. Svetlana Ignatovich, made up in very contemporary style, makes an attractive, vocally appealing heroine, possessed of the necessary simplicity and (pantheistic) faith. Ignatovich has the needed steadiness, endurance and expressive features and vocal coloration for this remarkably demanding role. As Prince Vsevolod, Maxim Aksenov shows up looking like the Slavic Boy Next Door, losing his shirt within minutes. His tenor, very dark, stays secure but lacks liquidity and shine. The martyred huntsman Poyarok dramatically showcases Alexey Markov, a very fine baritone.
Little Kitezh in Act II resembles the lurid bar in Tcherniakov's Bolshoi Wozzeck: smoke/drink/flashy clothes = banal Evil. The violence with which the invading Tatars — embodied non-banal Evil — end this act is all too contemporary and quite graphic. British tenor John Daszak takes on the tricky Dostoevskian antihero Grishka, as Mussorgskian a figure as Rimsky ever created, singing trenchantly and channeling macho bad boy with scary virtuosity. Wearing an Amsterdam-sourced Bob Marley T-shirt, the distinguished bass Gennady Bezzubenkov makes the prophetic Gusli Player a café guitarist. The Tatar khans are bass brothers, Bedyay and Burunday; their destiny recalls Fafner and Fasolt, among many Wagnerian echoes in a work often justly termed "the Russian Parsifal." Act III's Great Kitezh seems a field hospital or dormitory, with citizens far more simply dressed than in the previous act's free-for-all. After Markov's powerful big scene, Vladimir Vaneev's competent Prince Yuri seems merely to drone on conventionally in what should be an inspiring start to the opera's musical and spiritual climax — the city's collective sacrifice and transformation. The chorus and Mayram Sokolova (an affecting Page) rise valiantly to the challenge. And the finale — if Rimsky made it rather endless — is wonderfully imagined.
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