Stravinsky: Mavra • Tchaikovsky: Iolanta (DVD)
Anna El-Khashem, Noa Beinart et al; Children’s Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper; Opernstudio der Bayerischen Staatsoper; Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Alevtina Ioff (Bavarian Staatsoper/DVD)
Stravinsky • Tchaikovsky
Stravinsky: Mavra; Tchaikovsky: Iolanta (DVD)
Anna El-Khashem, Noa Beinart, Yulia Sokolik, Freddie De Tommaso, Mirjam Mesak, Long Long; Children’s Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper; Opernstudio der Bayerischen Staatsoper; Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Alevtina Ioffe; dir. Axel Ranisch (Munich, 2019)
Bavarian Staatsoper DVD: BSOREC 1003; Blu-ray: BSOREC2003 131 mins
In this live production, lesser-known short operas by two of Russia’s top composers are presented not as a double bill, but chopped and reformed to make a single hybrid drama. Briefly, Stravinsky’s Mavra – based on a saucy tale by Pushkin – is presented as the invention of the not-so-innocent adolescent princess Iolanta (Mirjam Mesak), who plays out its drama with her dolls, their actions mirrored by singers dressed and masked to appear as those dolls. As in Tchaikovsky’s opera, Iolanta has been born blind but has been deliberately kept ignorant of the fact until a knight, Vaudémont (ardently sung by Long Long), manages to break into her garden and discovers her inability to tell the difference between red and white roses. The producer, Axel Ranisch, then subverts Iolanta’s final ‘gaining of sight’ by having Vaudémont realise it is a pitiful charade, then blinding himself in an act of empathy. The Mavra dolls take pity on the lovers, give them their heads so they can see, and finally both pairs of lovers flee.
An intriguing concept, perhaps, but the respective musical styles fail to mesh: the Stravinsky – notwithstanding his claim to be paying tribute to Tchaikovsky – is mischievous and ultimately cynical, reflecting the Russian cabaret act that was its principal inspiration; while the Tchaikovsky, though an uneven work, is at its core heartfelt, particularly in the inspired love duet between the heroine and her ardent knight. Superb though all the young principals and the two ensembles (one for each opera) are, eloquently conducted by Alevtina Ioffe, this production appears rather less than the sum of its parts.