Rachmaninov’s Troika conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov
WORKS: Aleko; The Miserly Knight; Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Kostas Smoriginas, Sergey Semishkur, Alexander Vassiliev, Anna Nechaeva, Yaroslava Kozina, Sergei Leiferkus, Dmitry Golovnin, Ilya Silchukov, Alexander Kravets, Dmitris Tiliakos; La Monnaie Chorus & Orchestra/Mikhail Tatarnikov; dir. Kirsten Dehlholm (Brussels, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: BAC 133

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The atmospheric, understated beauty of Rachmaninov’s short opera trilogy may surprise those who only know his symphonies. Based on Pushkin poems and a Dante episode, they’re more unified dramatically than Puccini’s Trittico, and stage as readily. This first complete DVD, therefore, ought to be especially welcome.

Musically it isn’t bad, with Anna Nechaeva an appealingly sensuous Zemfira and Francesca, sturdy Greek baritones as jealous heavies Aleko and Lorenzaccio, and veteran Sergei Leiferkus excellent as the demented Knight. Mikhail Tatarnikov conducts the Monnaie’s players with youthful vigour, if less nuance than Gianandrea Noseda on CD. But visually this adds precisely nothing. 

Not that these pieces demand literal staging, far from it; they’re positively made for imaginative re-interpretation. But here, for no discernible reason, the orchestra’s dumped on-stage, the singers relegated to sloping steps (steppes?) behind, their movement reduced to static, forward-facing hieratic posturing. Aleko’s costumes are eyewatering patchwork tailcoats, dayglo wigs and expression-masking facepaint; Francesca’s, similar but duller. For the Knight projection screens muffle the orchestra, stranding the protagonists on the narrow apron, the supposedly dashing Son lumbered with a vast grey fat-suit and bald wig, the Duke clownish with immense boots. More worryingly, they also wear head-mikes; for the recording only, one hopes.

In all, the stylisation seems so random it’s hard not to feel it chiefly saved labour and imagination, an impression the producer’s booklet article entirely fails to dispel. Aleko’s better served on DVD by Okuntsov’s straightforward 1986 film, Knight by Glyndebourne’s, with Leiferkus in fuller voice. This is just disappointing.

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Michael Scott Rohan