Rimsky-Korsakov: Sadko

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COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Sadko
WORKS: Sadko
PERFORMER: Vladimir Galusin, Valentina Tsidipova, Marianna Tarasova; Mariinsky Opera/Valery Gergiev; dir. Alexei Stepaniuk (St Petersburg, 1994)
CATALOGUE NO: 070 4399
PRESENTATION: *****

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Rimsky’s operas are too easily

stigmatized as mere fairy-tales,

lacking characterisation and depth

– conveniently forgetting The Tsar’s

Bride and The Invisible City of Kitezh,

among others. In Sadko, though,

those weren’t his priorities; he was

creating the operatic equivalent of

an illuminated manuscript. Sadko

illustrates the great bylina (folk epic)

of the seafaring merchant-minstrel

of ancient Free Novgorod, with

whom as sailor and musician himself

Rimsky felt an affinity. Sadko’s

adventures, seducing Volkhova,

daughter of the Sea-King, to help

him on his voyage, inspire one of

Rimsky’s most gorgeous scores,

derived from his tone-poem and as

pervaded by the sea as Sheherazade,

but full of richly Russian colours.

Gergiev conducts a sweeping

performance, with a typically

superb cast of the Kirov’s revival

years, full of rising stars – Diadkova,

Ognovenko, Bezzubenkov and the

superb character tenor Gassiev.

Contemporary stars sing the Three

Guests, Grigorian rather forced in

the famous ‘Song of India’, the late

Bulat Minjelkiev a resonant Viking.

Galusin, one of today’s most exciting

lirico-spinto tenors, sails through the

killing title role with steely tone and

more expressiveness and charm than

of late. Tsidipova’s piercingly clear,

slightly tremulous soprano is equally

fine for Volkhova. Charming also is

the staging, reproduced from airy,

painterly 1920s sets. Museum opera,

maybe; but then museums are there

to preserve treasures. And this is an

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absolute gem. Michael Scott Rohan