Rimsky-Korsakov

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Mariinsky
ALBUM TITLE: The Golden Cockerel
WORKS: The Golden Cockerel
PERFORMER: Vladimir Feliauer, Andrei Popov, Aida Garifullina, Kira Loginova, Andrei Serov; Mariinsky Chorus & Orchestra / Valery Gergiev; dir. Anna Matison (St Petersburg, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: MAR0596 (DVD & Blu-ray)

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Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera, based on Pushkin’s 1834 satirical fantasy, is still best known in the UK through David Pountney’s long-running, hilariously colourful production, with its trapeze-artist Cockerel. Young producer Anna Matison’s staging, filmed in the new Mariinsky house, creates something of the same panto feeling, with vast sets and impressive computer graphics. Musically it’s superior, though perhaps not to the degree one might expect. Valery Gergiev’s characteristically expansive conducting brings out Rimsky’s glowing Oriental languour, but at occasional cost to snappy pace and surreal wit. Likewise Matison, for all her liveliness, too often lets musical opportunities slacken into random business – the daft hippity-hoppity marches, for instance – but, despite some pointless hand camerawork, this vastly improves on the company’s humourless 2002 kabuki staging.

Her Cockerel becomes a modern, selfie-addicted young girl enticed by the serpentine Astrologer into the ridiculous realm of dim but tyrannical Tsar Dodon. Supposed to warn him against enemies, the Cockerel instead delivers him to the outrageously seductive Queen of Shemakhan, and a bad end. Which is all right, announces the Astrologer, because only he and the Queen were real…

That doesn’t prevent a fine cast bringing them to life, notably Vladimir Feliauer’s gruffly vigorous Dodon, less fatuous than most, and Aida Garifullina’s Queen, not the usual creamy-voiced shintiyan-clad houri but a crystal-toned, leggy modern sex goddess. Andrei Popov achieves the Astrologer’s fiendishly high range but rather misses his eerie quality. Bass Andrei Serov makes a resonant, put-upon General Polkan and Kira Loginova a sympathetic, baffled Cockerel, with the Mariinsky’s usual hard-working cast, chorus and dancers completing a highly enjoyable spectacle. Only later do you start wondering if the Astrologer really looked a little like Putin…

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Michael Scott Rohan