Glinka: Ivan Susanin (A Life for the Tsar)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Glinka
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Ivan Susanin (A Life for the Tsar)
PERFORMER: Nicola Ghiuselev, Elena Stoyanova, Hristina Angelakova, Roumen DoikovSofia National Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Ivan Marinov
CATALOGUE NO: 10 783/5
Russian opera’s official cornerstone has not fared well on CD. This recording was made in Bulgaria in the early days of perestroika, before the rehabilitation of the original text. (Here, following Stalin’s 1939 initiative, every major reference to ‘tsar’ is replaced by ‘Russian land’, ‘honour’ or ‘people’. At least that’s what I hear; no libretto is provided.)

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Competition comes from a later Sofia-based recording (Sony), with a strong cast and the restored 1830s libretto, but this new issue stands up surprisingly well. The Sofia National Opera Chorus sounds in better health, the rough-edged orchestra is conducted with spirit and there’s plenty of grit in the likeable recording. The voices for the four major roles fit the specific bill – no small achievement in the case of the high-lying parts given to the lovers. (Admittedly Doikov, unlike Sony’s Chris Merritt, sings a transposed version of the Act IV Adagio amoroso.) Crucially, too, Ghiuselev rises histrionically to the dark challenge of Susanin’s self-sacrificing final scene. Not all the music reaches that level, and Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, has more to admire; but at least every note of this long work is here to let us judge for ourselves. David Nice