Borodin: Prince Igor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Borodin
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Borodin: Prince Igor
WORKS: Prince Igor
PERFORMER: Ildar Abdrazakov, Oksana Dyka, Anita Rachvelishvili, Sergey Semishkur, Mikhail Petrenko, ≤tefan Kocán, Vladimir Ognovenko, Andrey Popov, Kiri Deonarine, Barbara Dever; Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus & Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov

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Vaunting claims about its dramatic superiority, fed into the mouth of nervous-looking presenter-bass Eric Owens, set me against director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s and conductor Gianandrea Noseda’s new performing edition of Borodin’s unfinished operatic epic. Without the Overture, purportedly refashioned from memory by Glazunov after Borodin’s death, there’s no good tune for 20 minutes, and balances between medieval ruler Igor’s home town of Putivl and the victorious Polovtsian enemy’s exotic camp are skewed by omitting the Act III reconstructed by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov (without them, there also wouldn’t be much left of the rest of the opera).

Eventually, though, Tcherniakov’s vision won me round. After a static Prologue, the First Act becomes a hallucination of Igor, wounded in combat and waking up in a ravishing, zig-zagged field of thousandfold red poppies; choreographer Itzik Galili provides a plausible solution to the tricky dances but lacks Mikhail Fokine’s classic flair in matching the music’s mounting excitement. 

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Dramatically strongest are the Act II wranglings back in Putivl: Mikhail Petrenko as Igor’s rotten brother-in-law gives the most rounded performance, while Gianandrea Noseda brings out all Rimsky’s woodwind colours, and the reordering of scenes here makes dramatic sense. Otherwise it’s big voices and a lot of stock gestures, though Anita Rachvelishvili’s Konchakovna scales down her second verse and Oksana Dyka’s handsome, stoic wife touches in her lament. Ildar Abdrazakov and Sergey Semishkur make a big, solid father and son, if too visibly close in years, and Tcherniakov’s ending, borrowed from Borodin’s part of the fantasy-ballet Mlada, gives the orchestra the last word. David Nice