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Serov: Judith / Udalova, Chistiakov, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra

Serov / Chistiakov / Bosh
Release Date: 07/26/2011 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 9219   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alexander N. Serov
Performer:  Irina Udalova
Conductor:  Andrey Chistiakov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre OrchestraUSSR Emic Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

SEROV Judith Andrey Chistiakov, cond; Irina Udalova ( Judith ); Elena Zaremba ( Avra ); Mikhail Krutikov ( Holofernes ); Nikolai Vassiliev ( Bagoas ); Anatoly Babykin ( Ozias ); Vladimir Kudriashov ( Achior ); Stanislav Suleimanov ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Asfaneses ); Pyotr Gluboky ( Eliachim ); Maxim Mikhailov ( Charmis ); Irina Zhurina ( First Odalisque ); Marina Shutova ( Second Odalisque ); Lev Kuznetsov ( Hindu Singer ); Bolshoi Th O; Russian Acad Ch; Male CCh BRILLIANT 9219 (2 CDs: 156:58)

Mrs. Humphry Ward, novelist, and Alexander Serov, composer, have some things in common. First of all, hardly anyone knows who they are; secondly, they were fabulously popular in their day; thirdly, they faithfully catered to the fashionable tastes of the general public; and finally, history, the greatest of critics, condemned them to a rapid descent into obscurity shortly after their deaths. In the case of Serov, not only history but the great Tchaikovsky gave him a low mark: “He knew how to catch the crowd—and if his opera suffers from poverty of melodic inspiration, want of organic sequence, weak recitative and declamation, and from harmony and instrumentation which are crude and merely decorative in effect—yet what sensational effects he succeeds in piling up!” Of course Tchaikovsky didn’t say kind things about Brahms either, so it is very fortunate that this handsome 1991 production of Judith has become available again, so that curious listeners may judge its qualities for themselves. This curious listener finds Judith eclectic, reminiscent of Meyerbeer and early Wagner; melodramatic rather than dramatic; and overly tinseled with harps, tambourines, triangles, and slinky modal tunes played on the oboe. When the libretto demands solid writing, the score seems to grow correspondingly weak, but secondary sequences, such as Judith and Avra’s departure to the Assyrian camp, prove to be quite compelling. The best music is found in an assortment of exotic oriental songs and dances scattered throughout the work, similar in caliber and mood to those of Liadov, Balakirev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov; sisters, one might say, to the fin de siècle paintings of Moreau, Delville, and Fabry, which are similarly evocative and facile—although one doesn’t want to look at them too often, or for too long!

Some of the performances in this recording are admirable. Irina Udalova in the formidable role of Judith is quite thrilling. She is a fearless singer of great endurance, and her beautifully spun pianissimos are as captivating as her brilliant trumpet-like fortes . She is also a singer of temperament, who in this instance is at a disadvantage, with an orchestra that fails to give her the support she needs to match her dramatic intent. Conductor Andrey Chistiakov might give strong dynamic contrasts, but his rhythmic inflection is tepid, and the thrust of the tempo, so essential in underscoring Judith’s strength and resolve, tends to be rather flaccid throughout.

The dark, lustrous voice of mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba rings superbly in her portrayal of the slave Avra. In keeping with the usual dramatic range of slaves in opera (with the notable exception of Aida), she is limited here to the dutiful and the anxious, but if one wishes to hear this artist in more challenging repertoire there is a fine operatic recital disc available on Arte Nova.

It is likely that Fyodor Chaliapin viewed the role of Holofernes, which he often sang, more as a vehicle for theatrical display than as an august musical accomplishment. Indeed, a great singing actor is required to transform Serov’s histrionic and clichéd profile into something believable, and the basso Mikhail Krutikov falls rather short, as most bassos do, of both the vocal and dramatic standards of his larger-than-life predecessor. Krutikov’s voice, husky from technical constraints, is of one opaque color throughout, giving the listener little sense of Holofernes’s arrogance and passion, while revealing just how undistinguished much of the vocal writing proves to be.

It can be said of many Russian operas that the chorus, the voice of the people, is ultimately the great hero. Here is a case in point, for when the excellent Russian Academic Choir sings, the opera Judith comes to life. This superb ensemble, trained by chorus master Ludmila Bogomolova, ignites not only the work, but the singers’ rather lackluster instrumental colleagues as well. During the choral sections, the otherwise listless players become transformed: The brass and woodwinds play with more homogeneous ensemble, entrances are more precise, the strings more vibrant, and the tone of the entire Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra rises to its traditional standard.

The sound engineering in this production is quite fine, although the microphones seem a bit closer to the singers than to the orchestra. I know the sound of the Bolshoi Theatre, and feel that the technicians have expertly captured the acoustic ambiance of this great hall, host to the works of Glinka, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff— and even Alexander Serov.

FANFARE: Raymond Beegle
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Works on This Recording

Judith by Alexander N. Serov
Performer:  Irina Udalova (Soprano)
Conductor:  Andrey Chistiakov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,  USSR Emic Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861–1863 

Sound Samples

Judith: Overture
Judith: Act I: Our Sufferings Are Endless! Cease These Blaspheming Complaints! (Ozias, Charmis, Eliachim)
Judith: Act I: Our Sufferings and Our Anguish Grow Worse (Ozias, Chorus)
Judith: Act I: What Is That? Do You Hear?" (Ozias, Charmis, Eliachim, Alchior, Chorus)
Judith: Act I: Finale: God of Israel, Save Thy Servants (All)
Judith: Act II: 's Monologue: The Town Will Thus Be Delivered ()
Judith: Act II: These Are Our Last Drops of Water (Avra, )
Judith: Act II: The Elders Are Coming (Avra, Ozias, Charmis, )
Judith: Act II: , I Implore You (Avra, )
Judith: Act II: Interlude: The March of Holofernes
Judith: Act III: Chorus of Odalisques and Dances Upon the River Euphrates (Chorus)
Judith: Act III: Out of My Sight (Holofernes, Asfaneses)
Judith: Act III: Chorus of Assyrians What is Happening in the Camp - A Jewess of a Beauty Never Seen Before (Bagoas, Chorus)
Judith: Act III: Behold, Holofernes Has Heard the News (Bagoas, Holofernes, , Avra, Asfaneses, Chorus)
Judith: Act III: Final Chorus: There is No Power on Earth Equal to Ours (Chorus)
Judith: Act IV: Prelude: Bacchanalian Dance of the Odalisques
Judith: Act IV: Dance of Two Almahs
Judith: Act IV: Festive Chorus: Orgy of Holofernes Fill the Cups With Wine (Holofernes, Bagoa, Chorus)
Judith: Act IV: Hindu Song: I Love You, Shining Moon (Bagoas)
Judith: Act IV: Holofernes's Song of Battle: These Songs About Women (Holofernes, Bagoas, Asfaneses, Chorus)
Judith: Act IV: , Approach (Holofernes, , Avra, Bagoas, Chorus)
Judith: Act IV: Finale: But Where Are You, Jewess? (Holofernes, , Bagoas, Avra)
Judith: Act V: Chorus of the Starving: If God Has Abandoned Us (Chorus, Achior, Ozias, High Priest, , Charmis)
Judith: Act V: Here is the Head of Holofernes (, Achior, Priest, Ozias, Chorus)
Judith: Act V: Final Chorus: We Have Conquered (, Chorus)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Rarity by Serov December 8, 2015 By Joseph Wood (Saint John, NB) See All My Reviews "This is a good recording of a rarely seen opera." Report Abuse
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