WORKS: Ruslan and Ludmila
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ognovienko, Anna Netrebko, Larissa Diadkova, Mikhail Kit, Gennady Bezubenkov, Galina GorchakovaKirov Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 446 746-2 (limited edition includes video)
A new recording of Glinka’s flawed masterpiece was badly needed, and this one, the latest release in the ongoing Philips-Kirov edition, fulfils all expectations. Ruslan and Ludmila is both one of the most thrilling and one of the most important of Russian operas. As the second opera (1842) by ‘the father of Russian music’, it became a veritable source-book for Russian composers even into the 20th century: it mixed Italian convention with bold new forms, ‘fantastic’ harmonies, vivid oriental colours and magical subjects. It also occupies a special position as the first of countless operas to have been drawn from Pushkin.
As anyone who acquires this presentation box combining CDs and video (pictured above) will discover, Ruslan is a work ideally suited to the Kirov’s unique strengths. Dance is a vital ingredient, and there are big choral moments in which the full-throated chorus excels itself. And it takes a conductor of Valery Gergiev’s powers to shape the sprawling five-act work so compellingly, to reconcile its Russian ruggedness with the Italianate virtuosity it demands.
Above all, it requires casting of a depth only the Kirov can provide. Even the company’s prima donna, Galina Gorchakova, has to take the secondary role of Gorislava, which she does with a gleaming tone. Anna Netrebko makes an appealing Ludmila, with pure, focused singing, confident in most of the coloratura. Vladimir Ognovienko sings finely sculpted lines as Ruslan. Mikhail Kit makes a noble Svetozar, Gennady Bezubenkov sounds slightly undercharacterised in Farlaf’s famous Rondo and the two tenors (Bayan and Finn) are vivid rather than refined. But Larissa Diadkova’s coppery contralto is one of the glories of the set, and her Ratmir comes across glowingly in a live, uncut performance that is captured with little unwanted noise.