PERFORMER: Vassily Gerello, Olga Guriakova, Vsevolod Grivnov, Mikhail Kit; Yurlov Capella, Moscow CO/Constantine Orbelian; Michael York, Vassily Lanovoy (readers)
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3269
For a work so neglected in the opera house, Aleko has done very well on disc. Written as a graduation exercise at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1892, its single act contains some very fresh music, and it requires a conductor who can find urgency and direction in each of the separate numbers: the American-born Constantine Orbelian supplies some of that in his handling of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
From Chaliapin onwards, great Russian basses and bass-baritones have been drawn to the title role. The dark-toned Vassily Gerello, while not quite in that tradition, captures most of the desperation of the outsider who joins a gypsy band to marry and later murder the free-spirited Zemfira. It is the Zemfira who makes this most worth hearing: with a big voice of glamour and freshness, Olga Guriakova is one of the most exciting new Russian sopranos to have emerged in recent years, and this appears to be her first recording. Vsevolod Grivnov (Young Gypsy) and Mikhail Kit (Old Gypsy) give good performances. Unlike any other recording of the work, this includes a second disc featuring the Pushkin poem on which the opera is based, and Michael York’s reading of the Walter Arndt translation (why?) is less appealing than Vassily Lanovoy’s wistful account of the original. John Allison