Tchaikovsky • Stravinsky
Here are two things I hardly expected to see: director Peter Sellars tackling a Tchaikovsky opera, and Stravinsky’s least familiar Greek drama making it to the stage. Heroines Iolanta and Perséphone both move from a fearful darkness to light, on the same minimal set designed by George Tsypin. It’s only a pity that the clear, rapidly changing colour schemes for Perséphone, mirrored in restrained dance from leading performers of Cambodia’s Amrita Performing Arts and sharp orchestral tones, aren’t preceded by an equal directness in the telling of Tchaikovsky’s fable.
Sellars seizes on the idea that blind Iolanta’s prevention by those around her from learning the truth of her condition equals ‘a place of secret remorse and private hurt’. The director backs up his idea in a crisp documentary, but the result doesn’t read so clearly. The confusing visual solution includes mobile search lamps fitfully hitting faces and dramatic obfuscation which stretches the curious storyline. Both the production and conductor Teodor Currentzis’s insistence on the authentic power of the moment begin well, but get bogged down in the duet between Iolanta and Vaudemont. It would be hard to find a more committed, vocally assured pair than Ekaterina Scherbachenko and Pavel ∫ernoch; but both are asked to slow down their exchanges and over-complicate the potentially touching sequence when Iolanta can’t tell a red rose from a white one – none appears here – and Vaudemont, realising she’s blind, tells her the truth. What clarity there is comes from the singers, matched in Perséphone by the intensity of tenor Paul Groves and the speaking heroine, Dominique Blanc.