LABELS: Erato Libretto
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya, Nicolai Gedda, Walton Groenroos, Dimiter Petkov, Tom KrauseGroupe Vocal de France, Orchestre de Paris/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 2292-45973-2 DDD
Tchaikovsky’s last opera is known here: there is a good Bolshoi recording as well as this Paris version, and it was done at last year’s Edinburgh Festival in the pairing (with The Nutcracker) for which it was composed. It remains, however, a rarity. It may have suffered the fate of all but the most brilliant one-acters; though too short for a complete evening, it is too big for a normal double bill. And what, in practical terms, could it go with? Only perhaps other rarities, like Rachmaninov’s Aleko.
More single-minded than its predecessor The Queen of Spades, it has musical splendours to match, but is theatrically bland. Adapted from a Danish play by the composer’s brother Modest, it recounts the moving tale of the blind Provencal princess who discovers sight through the desire to save her lover from execution. The story is good, but the dramaturgy weak — there are, for instance, no morally flawed characters. So the music’s undoubted gutsiness lacks motivation.
This personable Erato recording of a 1984 concert in the Salle Pleyel (already once issued on CD) is really a very Russian affair. Vishnevskaya is no longer the fresh young girl, Petkov surrounds the notes rather than hitting them, and Rostropovich pulls out most of the stops most of the time. Even Gedda has developed middle-aged vocal spread. There are casting weaknesses. But Tom Krause as the sage Arab doctor is not one of them, and the orchestra performs with valour. Stephen Walsh