The Golden Cockerel (DVD)
Dmitry Ulyanov, Nina Minasyan, Andrey Popov, Margarita Neksarova, Mischa Scelomiansky; Chorus and Orchestra of Opéra National de Lyon/Daniele Rustioni; dir. Barrie Kosky (Lyon, 2021)
Naxos DVD: 2.110731; Blu-ray: NBD0150V 128 mins
Filmed at the Opéra de Lyon in May 2021, this production of what is probably Rimsky-Korsakov’s best-known opera outside Russia is to an extent a victim of Covid. Conductor Daniele Rustioni wears a mask, as do the members of the chorus – though not the principals. One of the opera’s most spectacular moments – the Wedding Procession of King Dodon and the Queen of Shemakha – is reduced to a dance with just four participants.
Barry Kosky’s productions are often extraordinary in terms of visuals. Here the set – a drab heathland with a single bare tree to one side – has to do for all three acts, by which time it has inevitably palled. There are nevertheless some clever moments – the childlike Dodon has a wonderful mechanical horse at one point, while the Golden Cockerel itself is a nearly naked man mostly seated halfway up the tree, with the (soprano) voice coming from elsewhere. Deaths are ghoulish à la Kosky. But all in all, this is not the show the talented director might have given us in better circumstances.
Yet – and importantly – the music is superbly sung and acted by an all-Russian cast. Dmitry Ulyanov makes a suitably grubby, idiotic Tsar (Rimsky’s score was premiered after the composer’s death in censored form due to its clear satirical content), while Nina Minasyan is a scintillating Queen and Andrei Popov an eerie Astrologer.
Meanwhile the brilliance and colour of Rimsky-Korsakov’s unusual harmonies and orchestration register impressively, with Rustioni and the Lyon forces on consistently impressive form.