TCHAIKOVSKY: Iolanta
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Iolanta

spacer Netrebko, Bohinec; Skorokhodov, Markov, Meachem, Kowaljow; Slovenian Chamber Choir and Philharmonic, Villaume. Libretto and translation. Deutsche Grammophon 479 3969 (2)

IolantaCD

Anna Netrebko has taken up the title role of Iolanta, Tchaikovsky’s lovely last opera, and it suits her splendidly. She has championed Iolanta in staged and concert versions all over Europe and brought it to the Met in January. Her detailed performance here, in ravishing dark lirico-spinto tones, is the main selling point for this newly issued live recording, made in 2012 in Essen. Oddly, though Russian and russophone singers are available the world over, DG has engaged only a few of them for this project, which relates to an Iolanta concert tour Netrebko did with the very capable maestro Emmanuel Villaume and the Slovenian Philharmonic. So several of the minor roles sound well-coached syllabically rather than fully inhabited linguistically — a throwback to the company’s oddly cast Soviet-era Queen of Spades set, among others.

Netrebko’s shining, committed account of the blind princess who attains sight through love anchors a very strong team of singers in the six leading roles. Even if he doesn’t seem to command an accessible head voice, Sergei Skorokhodov’s light tremolo and honey-lemon sound are well within the Russian tenor tradition and certainly work convincingly for Vaudémont, Iolanta’s suitor and eventual liberator from darkness. Baritone Alexey Markov, who joined Netrebko in the Met production, sounds just marvelous here as Duke Robert, absolutely secure and ringing. Vitalij Kowaljow, mysteriously absent from the Met stage since 2007, offers a marble-voiced, subtly phrased King René; his restraint is as welcome as his basic sound. American lyric baritone Lucas Meachem, as the Mauretanian physician, is the odd man out among the leads here, but his Russian is competent, and it’s nice to hear this intriguing part sung with such attractive tone. Monika Bohinec’s Marfa is splendid and clear; the other two female soloists representing Iolanta’s friends are rather disappointing in their very pretty duo music.

Iolanta has a substantive discography. Valery Gergiev’s 1994 Mariinsky version finds Galina Gorchakova a bit heavy-voiced for the sixteen-year-old princess, but the male cast, led by Gegam Grigorian and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, is generally excellent (though Kowaljow outsings the Mariinsky’s Sergey Aleksashkin), and — unlike the new set — it is completely idiomatic. The Mariinsky also provides a stronger choral and orchestral component, though the Slovenian Philharmonic is more than adequate. Both Gergiev’s set and this new issue provide exciting accounts of this long-underrated score. Fans of Netrebko may well opt for DG’s new offering. The libretto appears in transliteration with English, French and German translations. spacer 

DAVID SHENGOLD

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