Bizet: Ivan IV

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bizet
LABELS: NAIVE
WORKS: Ivan IV
PERFORMER: Inva Mula, Julian Gavin, Ludovic Tézier, Paul Gay, Alexandre Vassiliev, Henriette Bonde-Hansen; Radio France Chorus, French NO/Michael Schønwandt
CATALOGUE NO: V 4940
With this five-act blockbuster, the young Bizet clearly hoped to storm the portals of the Paris Opéra itself, and carry on where his teacher (and later father-in-law) Halévy, composer of La juive and other epics, had left off. It was not to be. The Opéra rejected this tale of Russia’s most notorious Tsar behaving badly and surviving endless plots, and when the Théâtre Lyrique failed to stage it thanks to a lack of funds, the 25-year-old composer abandoned hope and moved on to The Pearl Fishers. One or two moments from Ivan turn up there, in the piano duet suite Jeux d’enfants and other works. The sole surviving score is incomplete, and Howard Williams has filled in some missing orchestration very aptly.

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It’s no masterpiece, but it’s great fun. The libretto is conventional, but Bizet has a talent for coming up with vivid ideas that he proceeds to decorate delightfully, which is evident in bar after bar. Pacing is a problem: Bizet’s melodies are winners, but they tend to outstay their welcome from a dramatic point of view.

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This live performance certainly establishes its musical merits, with conductor Michael Schønwandt discovering lightness and grace amid the big-band marches and hell-for-leather ensembles. Ludovic Tézier sings a striking Ivan, beginning as a charming lover before going on to impress as an appalling despot. Albanian soprano Inva Mula is accomplished and engaging as his wife, loyal in the most trying circumstances. Julian Gavin offers pleasing tone as her brother, Igor.