WORKS: The Story of a Real Man
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Kibkalo, Glafira Deomidova, Georgi Shulpin; Bolshoi Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Mark Ermler
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10002(2) ADD Reissue (1961)
Like the real-life Soviet hero who is the subject of Prokofiev’s last opera – an amputee airman who learns to serve his country again with the aid of artificial limbs – this Story of a Real Man, released for the first time on CD, puts up a good fight even in a much reconstructed and reduced form. Having been alerted to a good American pressing of a 1961 Moscow recording Chandos stepped in to issue it when Gergiev’s interest in championing the opera hung in the balance (as far as recording goes, I understand, it still does).
The merits of this reading, derived from the first staging since Prokofiev’s work fell foul of the authorities 13 years earlier, are its vivid performing basis and a rock-solid, word-conscious vintage ensemble. As with Semyon Kotko, Prokofiev’s other Soviet opera, it’s surprising how much dark, war-torn pessimism dominates, even if the good comrades who help our hero to regain his faith are the usual stereotypes. Alas, the melodic and dramatic gifts which enliven Kotko are here largely absent; the composer, by 1948 a tired and sick man, falls back on earlier folksong arrangements and patriotic numbers for his best themes. To keep us committed company through to a ramshackle last act are baritone Kibkalo and the conducting of the late Mark Ermler – sometimes vividly projected, sometimes echo-chambered by the typically capricious Soviet recording. Excellent Chandos presentation helps to document how much of the original score is missing, and where. Worth savouring in the absence of the complete score, but only if you already know Prokofiev’s six other full-length operas. David Nice