Russian Opera at the Bolshoi: The Vintage Years

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Glinka,Mussorgsky,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Warner NVC Arts
PERFORMER: Various
CATALOGUE NO: 5046 74772

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If this is ‘Russian Opera at the Bolshoi’, there are many unanswered questions. Why can’t we see Chaliapin singing rather than just hear him? Why so little of interest on the soprano side – Vishnevskaya excepted, striking iconic poses in The Queen of Spades – and nothing from that quirky bird, the Russian coloratura? And was there nothing to watch from any of Rimsky-Korsakov’s 15 wonderful operas, core repertoire for the Bolshoi if not for us?

What we have concentrates on Glinka, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, offering some fascinating comparisons of key arias. But it begins with too many men in long beards miming to soundtracks. There are over-the-top Boris Godunovs from Ivan Petrov and Alexander Oginvtsev, though it’s good to hear a bass capable of subtlety like Mark Reizen, who appears aged 90 (yes, honestly) in a moving performance of Prince Gremin’s aria from Eugene Onegin.

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In the best stretch of a patchy sequence, the two greatest Russian tenors of the 20th century, Lemeshev and Kozlovsky, give rival performances as Tchaikovsky’s Lensky before we see them joining in affectionate tribute to Chekhov’s widow Olga Knipper. A shame it’s all so minimally produced, with no details of the accompanying conductors or much about the context. David Nice