Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowsky: Jolanthe

Performed by Olesya Golovneva, Alexander Vinogradov, Andrei Bondarenko, Dmytro Popov, Vladislav Sulimsky, John Heuzenroeder, Marc-Olivier Oetterli, Dalia Schaechter, Justyna Samborska, Marta Wryk, the Chor der Oper Köln and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln; conducted by Dmitrij Kitaenko.

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Oehms
ALBUM TITLE: Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowsky: Jolanthe
WORKS: Iolanthe
PERFORMER: Olesya Golovneva, Alexander Vinogradov, Andrei Bondarenko, Dmytro Popov, Vladislav Sulimsky, John Heuzenroeder, Marc-Olivier Oetterli, Dalia Schaechter, Justyna Samborska, Marta Wryk; Chor der Oper Köln, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/ Dmitrij Kitaenko
CATALOGUE NO: OC 963

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This latest, Cologne-based and mostly Russian-cast, recording of Tchaikovsky’s far from neglected last opera is better than Anna Netrebko’s recent recording, but doesn’t attain the ideal of Valery Gergiev’s 1994 Kirov Opera classic. Acclaim for Dmitrij Kitaenko’s Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky baffles me: he lacks the suppleness that would lend enchantment to this glowing if odd fable of the blind girl led to see the world. A crucial inflexibility with his singers is soon apparent in Iolanta’s arioso – tempo molto rubato, Tchaikovsky asks, but the conductor doesn’t let Olesya Golovneva’s heroine take wing.

Golovneva in any case lacks the luminous soprano pathos essential for the vulnerable princess, but she does have intensity, which presumably made her a good Natasha in Cologne Opera’s War and Peace. The ideal combination of golden voice and dramatic conviction belongs to tenor Dmytro Popov’s Vaudemont, which means that the crucial duet in which the hero discovers that his love can’t see is the heart of the opera, as it should be. The top B flat in his preceding romance isn’t quite as thrilling as Gegam Grigorian’s for Gergiev, but it’s part of a phrase conducted, like so many others, in one long breath.

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The lower male voices are all distinguished – chiefly those of bass Alexander Vinogradov and baritone Andrey Bondarenko – but their lack of nuance combines with sound that’s way too close. At least we hear most of the detail in the orchestra, especially Tchaikovsky’s amazing woodwind scoring. What a great score this is, and at least – unlike the Netrebko turkey – it’s done with live conviction. Presentation is plain, lacks a libretto and gives two different names for one of the bit-part singers. David Nice