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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Please note: This set does not include a libretto.
This is a faithful testament to Mazeppa's intermittent power to move and appal.
Call it cynicism or simply a composer's desire to reach a wider public at a time before film scores brought in the money, but Tchaikovsky's newfound concept of opera as a popular art-form in the 1880s was hardly likely to yield any consistent masterpieces. Ironically it was the earlier Eugene Onegin that now took on a new lease of life and turned Tchaikovsky into Russia's best-loved composer, not the more calculated recipes for success of The Maid of Orleans, Mazeppa or Charodeyka ("The Enchantress"). Onegin works for us today because it is sincerely felt from
start to finish; but the fascination of those lesser-known operas lies in the way they move in and out of scenes and predicaments which clearly touched the composer. Of the three, Mazeppa has the greatest share of first-rate music, extending our appreciation of Tchaikovsky's blacker side as he attempts to reflect the cruelty inflicted by the anti-hero (no noble Ukrainian freedom-fighter either here or in the Pushkin poem on which the opera is based), though the centres of gravity on this recording do not always fall where received critical wisdom has suggested they should.
Tchaikovsky has supposedly invested most in the portrayal of the unhappy heroine Mariya; but the celebrated 'quiet curtain' to the last act where, driven gently mad by her elderly lover's execution of her disaffected father, she cradles the body of her childhood sweetheart in her arms, registers its restraint without proving deeply moving. There is a matter-of-factness about Galina Gorchakova's delivery which holds us at arm's length, begging admiration for the unique brilliance of her upper register without beginning to touch the core either of the necessary intimacy here nor the bigger emotions of previous scenes. Her response to Mazeppa's patriotic scheme in Act 2 (second disc, track 4, index point 8) gives us a fairer picture of the Gorchakova phenomenon than ill-focused earlier stages of this semi-interpretation: shining strength above the stave goes some way towards redeeming the placidity of the whole. It takes Larissa Dyadkova's far more committed cut and thrust in the electrifying scene between Mariya and her mother to spur Gorchakova to a more consistent sense of occasion (though I wonder, incidentally, if the final clash here of the soprano's top B with the mezzo's A can ever sound quite right).
Anatoly Kotscherga's Kochubey recalls the virtues and weaknesses of his Boris for Abbado (Sony Classical, 5/94). He would clearly like to deliver more than his limited vocal resources permit him as the outraged father seethes in Act 1—Chaliapinesque ranting might just have carried the ensemble scenes of the act, much the weakest of the three—but he rises to his supreme challenge as Tchaikovsky plumbs the depths for Kochubey's prison monologue: here, indeed, are the range of tone-colour and introspection missing from Gorchakova's mad scenes. Leiferkus has less to deal with as the headstrong tyrant (though more, certainly, than Sergei Larin, who does his best with the lachrymose heroics of the token tenor); even so, he strikes firmly at the heart of darkness, and there could be no more free- and easy-sounding delivery of the wonderful aria that Tchaikovsky gave his baritone at a late stage in the compositional process. In the cases of both the victim's darkest hour and this, the conqueror's most sensitive one, Jarvi reinforces the orchestra's role as an equal partner in characterization—driving home the lower-instrument gloom and terror of Kochubey's circumstances, underlining the light and lovely, woodwind-dominated scoring of "O, Mariya!" as Mazeppa muses Gremin-like on the sincerity of his late-flowering love.
Jarvi's swift, fluent way with the outward drama of the piece is strikingly established in the Introduction, where the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra are lucky to be able to establish their greatest asset in the first, brusque announcement of Mazeppa's theme: powerful cellos and basses register richly in another spacious Gothenburg Concert Hall recording. He takes the orchestral set-pieces, the gopak and the "Battle of Poltava" sequence at heady speeds, though the fire dims a little for the big execution-finale of Act 2, where neither the brass nor the chorus (from Stockholm's Royal Opera, a notch above the polite Gothenburgers on Jarvi's previous DG opera recording, Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel, 7/91) are as ruthless as their Russian counterparts would surely be. A short Third Act means that there is (unused) space on the third disc for the conventional finale that Tchaikovsky originally wrote (it is included as a supplement to the full score); our respect for his last-minute decision to keep it simple would surely be all the greater had we been allowed to hear that alternative. Slight disappointment with the muchvaunted Gorchakova apart, then, this is a faithful testament to Mazeppa's intermittent power to move and appal. If DG decide to keep this particular ball rolling, I only hope Jarvi has his eye on the winsome Vakula the Smith rather than Tchaikovsky's other later operatic hybrids; may they then follow in good time.
– David Nice, Gramophone [11/1994], reviewing original release DG 439906
Works on This Recording
Mazeppa by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Heinz Zednik (Tenor),
Sergei Leiferkus (Baritone),
Galina Gorchakova (Soprano),
Anatolij Kotscherga (Baritone),
Sergei Larin (Bass),
Larissa Diadkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Monte Pederson (Baritone),
Richard Margison (Tenor)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra,
Royal Stockholm Opera Chorus
Written: 1881-1883; Russia
Date of Recording: 08/1993
Venue: Konzerthuset, Göteborg, Sweden
Length: 166 Minutes 51 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 4 Customer Reviews )
Gruesome Plot; Great Orchestration September 23, 2013
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"I found the excellent playing of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the solid direction of Neeme Jarvi to be most compelling aspects of this Tchaikovsky opera, which to me ranks in the second tier of his great works. The least attractive part has to be the brutal, uncompromising plot, which concerns the rapacious lifestyle of a Ukrainian Cossack chief (Mazeppa) of some 300 years ago. Here one does not find warmth, humor, sarcasm, or the sleight-of-hand dialog which makes much of Western European opera so engaging. Instead, the overarching psychological ambience focuses on terror, power, and raw male chauvinism (granted, these are part of the Russian historical tradition), and the listener can sense this easily in the cast's phrasing, vocal colorations, and dynamics, as they work to express Tchaikovsky's stern and austere tale- and they do very well with a difficult task. Deutsche Grammophone's engineering team merits strong kudos, as the sound is top notch, both singers and orchestra coming through loud and clear. The lack of a libretto makes it difficult to follow the plot, although a track-by-track synoptic summary is provided. In short, this is a nice recording of a work which (in my opinion) is not one of Tchaikovsky's true masterpieces. Fans of Russian opera will surely enjoy this starkly dramatic recording. On the other hand, the casual opera fan may be troubled by the opera's tragic story line and the bleakness of the overall aesthetic which the work presents. Regardless of how you react to this opera, it is definitely worth a listen."
Another opera masterpiece by Tchaikovsky October 24, 2012
By Dr. Stephen Schoeman (Westfield, NJ) See All My Reviews
"Tchaikovsky ranks as one of the great opera composers for many reasons, including, of course, his extraordinary orchestration. We hear some of this brilliant orchestration in Mazeppa which is about the man in whom Czar Peter the Great placed his confidence but who would turn on the Czar by making secret negotiations with the Swedish king who was attempting military conquest over Peter. This was a stab in the back. People who so enjoy "The 1812 Overture" will be fascinated by hearing strains of it in Mazeppa! The performance is first-rate. There is something very special about hearing Russian operatic voices and Russian operatic choruses. A quality not to be found in Italian or French or German opera. Sadly, Mazeppa is rarely performed outside Russia. But it should be. Tchaikovsky brings to opera a sophistication in orchestration not to be found, for example, in Verdi's Il Travatore which is a less refined musical masterpiece. Many times in Verdi you know what will come next. There is a "sameness" to much of his operatic works. But with Tchaikovsky there are surprises galore in his scores. The time is long past when Russian opera should be standard fare at the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala and other opera houses outside Russia. Enough of La Boheme, Carmen, Madam Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, and Wagner's "Ring Cycle"! Let's treat ourselves to more Russian opera. Glinka. Borodin. Tchaikovsky. Rimsky-Korsakov. If not in the opera house, at least by purchasing recordings from ArchivMusic. And while we are at it throw in Scriabin, Myaskovsky, and other Russian classical music giants not well known today if known at all. Indeed throw in all the other classical music giants whose works are rarely performed. Hummel, Ditters von Dittersdorf, Carl Stamitz, and Enesco and the others. Classical musical life as it is performed today or recorded today cannot be just the old standbys. Not just Beethoven and Mozart and Schubert and Haydn and Chopin. And with them not just their "famous" works. We must hear contemporary classical music as well. Lots of it. And music from other cultures as well. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Spanish, to name some. Mazeppa can be the start of something big, a beginning to appreciate classical compositions which are over-looked in the opera houses or on the concert stages of the world. To know classical music and truly to appreciate it we must hear as much classical music from as many classical music composers as possible. Stephen Schoeman, Ph. D. Political Scientist"
Great Orchestration May 9, 2012
By Charles M. Opincar (New York, NY) See All My Reviews
"Neeme Jarvi's conducting brings this gem to sparkling brilliance. It's hard to believe that this magnificent opera by Tchaikovsky is almost never performed and rarely recorded. Thankfully, Jarvi generous, thundering and heart-swelling sound adds even a greater dimension to Tchaikovsky's impressive piece. The choral work does not disappoint as as does some of the principals' strained voices. A thrilling recording, especially given the bargain price. Buy now before this overlooked and unappreciated opera disappears from the catalog."