Schnittke: Life with an Idiot

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schnittke
WORKS: Life with an Idiot
PERFORMER: Dale Duesing, Remain Bischoff, Teresa Ringholz, Howard Haskin, Robin LeggateRotterdam PO/Mstislav Rostropovich
What a wonderful title. The absurdist libretto of Schnittke’s opera by the former ‘dissident’ writer Victor Erofeyev is based on his own short story and is pardy a satire on Soviet life under Communism (‘Vova’ was Lenin’s nickname, and Howard Haskin — the creator of the role — was made up to look like the former leader). Clearly, for Schnittke and other post-Soviet artists, there are still scores to setde with the past. Whether that will tell against the opera’s long-term success remains to be seen.


At its worst it recalls a superior cabaret act, Schnittke’s frequent recourse to parody as part of his ‘polystylistic’ approach sounding a touch glib. But other moments suggest wider resonances. The opera was premiered in Amsterdam last April, when this recording was made. Rostropovich, who was instrumental in the project from an early stage, conducts a brash but vital performance (he also plays the cello and piano) and the cast enters fully into the spirit of the piece. The sound has a curiously hollow quality. George Hall