The Snow Maiden
Aida Garifullina, Yuriy Mynenko, Martina Serafin, Maxim Paster, Thomas Johannes Mayer; Orchestra of Paris National Opera/Mikhail Tatarnikov; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Paris, 2017)
Bel Air Classiques BAC186 (DVD); BAC486 (Blu-ray) 194 mins
Back in May, Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov won the 2021 International Opera Award for best production for his staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan at La Monnaie in Brussels. Here he is again with a Rimsky opera, this time from the Bastille in Paris, where it was filmed in April 2017, once again showing why his work is so admired.
The Snow Maiden (1882) is infrequently performed outside Russia. A full-blown example of the composer in folkloric mode – Rimsky labelled it a ‘springtime fairy-tale’ – it describes in allegorical form the transformation from winter to spring, with the Snow Maiden herself – ideally personified here by Aida Garifullina – melting away at the close. His own designer, Tcherniakov realigns these legendary elements in the context of a contemporary group of New-Age forest-dwelling members of a folk-revival movement; clever and detailed, the result is often spectacular in its stagecraft.
Roughly half of the cast is Russian. Emphatic tenor Maxim Paster embodies Tsar Berendey, the community’s leader, a benign elderly painter in traditional costume. Forcefully voiced by Thomas Johannes Mayer, the menacing trader Mizgir is a businessman. Intended as a female contralto, the shepherd-minstrel Lel is here impressively delivered by countertenor Yuriy Mynenko. Martina Serafin makes an impassioned Kupava, Elena Manistina a vocally gorgeous Spring Beauty. Conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov is sensitive to the score’s brilliant colours and vividly imagined textures, drawing on the fine playing of the Paris Opera Orchestra and the enthusiastic engagement – both vocal and dramatic – of the chorus.