Nazhmiddin Mavlyanov, Aida Garifullina, Ekaterina Semenchuk; Bolshoi Theater Orchestra/Timur Zangiev; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Moscow, 2020)
Bel Air Classiques DVD: BAC188; Blu-ray: BAC488 186 mins (2 discs)
Perhaps it’s the Russianness of Rimsky’s operas that makes them hard to export. A folk story of the would-be troubadour Sadko winning a fortune thanks to the Princess Volkhova, youngest daughter of the Sea Tsar, who as a final gift gives the city of Novgorod a river to the sea, somehow belongs East of the Ukraine.
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Bolshoi production puts Sadko, his wife Lubava and the sea Princess into modern dress with each interviewed about their hopes and wishes before the curtain rises on what appears to be an ironised version of how Russians see their own patriotic history. The ‘heroic’ life Sadko longs for is a fantasy with the Mother Russia sets wheeled about by an army of proletarian technicians in overalls and yellow forage caps. Mind you, you are unlikely to see the lavish fish costumes for the under-the-sea wedding between Sadko and Volkhova this side of a Black Sea resort wedding.
Nazhmiddin Mavlyanov is a sturdy Sadko, scarcely ever off the stage. While Aida Garifullina’s Princess Volkhova, flitting about in an unflattering tie-dye nightie, is a distinctly Slav soprano with a tendency to push the voice too hard. As the abandoned wife Lubava, Ekaterina Semenchuk is a ‘grumpy’ mezzo. Rightly, the solo for the Varangian Merchant (Dmitry Ulianov) who will accompany Sadko on his voyages stops the show. But it’s Rimsky’s sparkling score that really shines and the luxuriant tone painting of a master orchestrator with the Bolshoi orchestra under Timur Zangiev give it their best best.