Vladimir Jurowski conducts Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
WORKS: Ruslan and Lyudmila
PERFORMER: Albina Shagimuratova, Mikhail Petrenko, Yuriy Mynenko, Almas Svilpa, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Charles Workman, Elena Zaremba, Vladimir Ognovenko, Alexandre Polkovnikov; State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia Chorus & Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Moscow, 2011)


The re-opening after renovation of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre five years ago was celebrated with the work Tchaikovsky called ‘the tsar of operas’: Glinka’s 1842 masterpiece Ruslan and Lyudmila, a source-book for almost all Russian composers even into the 20th century. As recordings of it remain relatively rare, and the production is one of the few Dmitri Tcherniakov stagings not to have travelled more widely, this release is welcome – yet it does not fully explain the high regard in which connoisseurs hold the opera. 

Vladimir Jurowski drives the score along with his trademark forensic energy yet without revealing all its musically exhilarating potential. Key moments sound somewhat airless and short of virtuosic polish – even the famous overture, which goes with less of a zing than usual – and conductor and orchestra give little feeling of really loving this music. The cast, though not equalling that on Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky recording (CD and DVD), is accomplished and is led with soft-grained warmth by Mikhail Petrenko (Ruslan) and mettlesome glint by Albina Shagimuratova (Lyudmila). Among the others, Elena Zaremba makes an especially characterful appearance as the sorceress Naina; but it’s odd that the only non-Slavic singer (Charles Workman) should be cast as the bard Bayan, and unnecessary to make Ratmir a countertenor (Yuri Minenko).

Tcherniakov lives up to his reputation with a production that is fascinating and occasionally infuriating. Opening in what looks like lavish traditional costume, it turns out to be set at a wedding feast hosted by a nouveau riche oligarch (Svetosar), the fancy-dress entertainment soon giving way to modern, mafioso sterility. Viewers who already know the work will get the most of out this version, yet it never completely loses sight of the opera’s essential spirit.


John Allison