ALBUM TITLE: Glinka
WORKS: Ruslan and Ludmila
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ognovenko, Anna Netrebko, Mikhail Kit, Larissa Diadkova, Gennady Bezzubenkov, Galina Gorchakova; Kirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev; dir. Lotfi Mansouri (Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 1995)
CATALOGUE NO: 075 096-9
Representing the best of the Kirov, this sumptuous account of Glinka’s masterpiece has been available on video before but now appears enhanced in its DVD format. It’s not just that the sound is excellent compared with many opera DVDs, or that there is a fascinating profile of the Kirov’s chief, Valery Gergiev; no, the greatest pleasure comes from seeing how good the performance itself appears on screen. Having experienced Lotfi Mansouri’s production live in St Petersburg as a magical piece of old-fashioned theatre, I was worried that some of the detail would appear flimsy in the cold light of DVD, or that on screen the dark scenes would disappear into impenetrable gloom. They don’t.
Tchaikovsky called Ruslan ‘the tsar of operas’, and it takes a conductor like Gergiev to reconcile all the Russian ruggedness with the Italianate virtuosity: he shapes the five sprawling acts compellingly. Indeed, the opera is ideally suited to the unique strengths of the Kirov as a whole, since dance is an important ingredient.
As Ludmila, Anna Netrebko makes a perfect heroine: she matches the looks of a fairytale princess to a focused soprano, and spins pure, confident coloratura. Vladimir Ognovenko is a refined Ruslan, and Mikhail Kit a noble Svetosar. Galina Gorchakova is strong and affecting in the secondary role of Gorislava, the smaller roles are characterfully filled, and Larissa Diadkova’s incisive, glowing Ratmir is a special glory of this performance.