Rimsky-Korsakov: The Legend of the Invisible city of Kitezh

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
WORKS: The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh
PERFORMER: Svetland Ignatovich, Vladimir Vaneev, Maxim Aksenov, John Daszak, Alexey Markov, Mayram Sokolova, Morschi Franz, Peter Arink, Gennady Bezzubenkov, et al; Netherlands Philharmonic & Opera/Marc Albrecht; dir. Dmitri Cherniakov
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: OA1089 D; Blu-ray: OA BD 7109

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At last, a really recommendable video of this extraordinary opera, often called a ‘Russian Parsifal’. It allies mythical power, spirituality and profound feeling to some of Rimsky’s most gloriously lyrical music.

The only other DVD, from Cagliari, is decently performed but hampered by a somewhat silly staging. Dmitri Cherniakov’s, here, is also modern, its setting updated to a near-future Russia on the brink of some holocaust, with the marauding Tartars all too familiar post-Soviet gangsters. But he remains remarkably true to the spirit of the work and imaginative, if occasionally distracting, in resolving its staging problems – for example, humanising the forest animals in the manner of JanáΩek’s Vixen. Only his climactic vision of the transfigured Kitezh, though clever, really misfires.

Musically this is also superior: superbly sung by a largely Russian cast, it is swept along by Marc Albrecht’s fluent conducting and some fine orchestral playing. Svetlana Ignatovich is almost ideal as the heroine Fevronia, lyrical and convincingly sweet-natured, needing only a shade more power in her later, tormented scenes; Maxim Aksenov’s boyish Prince is equally fresh-toned. John Daszak’s steelier tenor is arresting as Fevronia’s antithesis, the tormented, drunken traitor Grishka. Mariinsky veterans Gennady Bezzubenkov, Vladimir Ognovenko and Vladimir Vaneev, though sometimes a little worn vocally, give memorable cameos.

Which leaves just one problem. The subtitles, indispensable, use the translation from Philips’s Mariinsky set, which among much else awful, even offensive, has Fevronia enigmatically saying her brother is a tree-creeper; if the translator had consulted something more than the pocket Oxford Dictionary, he’d have discovered it meant he was a honey-gatherer. Strongly recommended, nevertheless.

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Michael Scott Rohan