BBC Music Magazine - - Opera Reviews -

The Tale of Tsar Sal­tan ( DVD) Al­bina Shag­imu­ra­tova, Irina Churilova, Ed­ward Tsanga, Mikhail Vekua, Elena Vit­man; Mari­in­sky Cho­rus & Orches­tra/valery Gergiev; dir. Alexan­der Petrov (St Peters­burg, 2015) Mari­in­sky MAR0597 (DVD & Blu-ray) 150 mins These days we see there’s much more to Rim­skyKor­sakov’s op­eras than lushly glit­ter­ing fan­tasy. In par­tic­u­lar, there’s the mys­ti­cism of The Leg­end of the In­vis­i­ble City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya, and Mlada; there’s the satire of The Golden Cock­erel, and the grimly char­ac­ter­ful melo­drama of The Tsar’s Bride. With The Tale of Tsar Sal­tan, though, we’re squarely in fairy-tale ter­ri­tory, a clas­sic Rus­sian skazka from Pushkin’s poem, with ugly sis­ters, lost prince, witch, mag­i­cal swan-princess and the like – all of which in­spired some of Rim­sky’s most gor­geous mu­sic, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Flight of the Bum­ble­bee (ar­ranged from two pas­sages) and his sig­na­ture sea paint­ing.

Po­etic im­agery, rather than re­al­is­tic drama, is the point, and this Mari­in­sky stag­ing, which came to Lon­don in 2008, is aptly based on the il­lus­tra­tions of the great Ivan Bili­bin, which for over a cen­tury have char­ac­terised skazki for Rus­sians – though up­dat­ing his soft hues with vivid post­mod­ern colours, pro­jected graph­ics and scenic links from IvanovVano’s fa­mous an­i­mated ver­sion (un­cred­ited). ‘In­vis­i­ble’ masked mimes, as in Ori­en­tal the­atre, man­age the var­i­ous mag­i­cal ef­fects, though the fi­nal ‘Three Won­ders’ are slightly skimped. Un­like the only pre­vi­ous video, Harry Kupfer’s cutesy-pie and bru­tally cut East Ger­man ef­fort (Quan­tum Leap), it looks su­perb on screen (de­spite some in­ept hand-held cam­er­a­work), a kind of su­per-pan­tomime – too long for most chil­dren, un­for­tu­nately, in Valery Gergiev’s lux­u­ri­ant, rel­ish­ing read­ing.

In this 2015 stag­ing, the singers are good rather than ex­cep­tional. Ed­ward Tsanga (who sadly died in 2017, at only 37) is a smooth basso can­tante Sal­tan; so­prano

Irina Churilova as his wronged wife sings beau­ti­fully but not very ex­pres­sively. Mikhail Vekua’s ar­dent tenor and lively stage pres­ence suits their son Prince Guidon, and the sis­ters, sup­port­ing cast and cho­rus are ex­cel­lent.

The only in­ter­na­tional name, col­oratura so­prano Al­bina Shag­imu­ra­tova, pro­vides the best singing as a ra­di­ant-toned Swan Princess, if less ethe­real than oth­ers I’ve seen in this stag­ing.

Al­to­gether, this is a fine per­for­mance of another Rim­sky rar­ity, well worth adding to one’s col­lec­tion. Michael Scott Ro­han PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★ PIC­TURE & SOUND ★★★★

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