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Rimsky-korsakov: Sadko / Simonov, Atlantov, Arkhipova, Morozov, Milashkina, Grigorieva

Rimsky-korsakov / Atlantov / Arkhipova / Simonov
Release Date: 03/16/2010 
Label:  Video Artists International   Catalog #: 4512  
Composer:  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Performer:  Lev KuznetsovValery JaroslavtsevAlexandre OgnivtsevPetr Glubokiy,   ... 
Conductor:  Yuri Simonov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre OrchestraBolshoi Theatre Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

One of the cornerstones of the Russian repertoire, Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful masterpiece Sadko is presented here in a thrilling 1980 performance featuring legendary Bolshoi Opera stars Vladimir Atlantov, Tamara Milashkina, and Irina Arkhipova. Orchestra and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theatre; Yuri Simonov, conductor. 173 minutes, Color, mono, 4:3, All regions. Subtitles in English, French, Italian, Spanish, & Romanized Russian.

Opera in Three Acts
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Libretto by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Vladimir Belsky, Vladimir Stasov Sadko, A Gusli-Player: Vladimir Atlantov
Lubava, his wife: Irina Arkhipova
The Sea King: Boris Morozov
Read more the Sea Princess: Tamara Milashkina
Nezhata, A Young Gusli-Player: Nina Grigorieva
First Elder (Foma): Andrei Sokolov
Second Elder (Luka): Valery Jaroslavtsev
First Buffoon (Duda): Petr Glubokiy
Second Buffoon (Sopel): Konstantin Baskov
Viking Guest: Alexander Ognivtsev
Indian Guest: Lev Kuznetsov
Venetian Guest: Alexander Voroshilo
An Apparition (The Mighty Ancient): Yuri Grigoriev

Production of The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra & Chorus of the Bolshoi Theatre Yuri Simonov, conductor

Live Performance, 1980 Produced by Music Department of Soviet TV Director: Boris Pokrovsky Production Design: Fedor Fedorovsky Video Director: Alexander Barannikov

R E V I E W:


RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Sadko Yury Simonov, cond; Vladimir Atlantov ( Sadko ); Tamara Milashkina ( Volkhova ); Irina Arkhipova ( Liubava ); Nina Grigorieva ( Nezhata ); Aleksandr Ognivtsev ( Varangian Merchant ); Lev Kuznetsov ( Indian Merchant ); Aleksandr Voroshilo ( Venetian Merchant ); Boris Morozov ( Sea Tsar ); Bolshoi Th Ch & O VAI 4512 (DVD: 173:00) Live: Moscow 1980

I particularly wanted to review this release because I saw this production in Moscow in 1982 and loved it. To begin, let me make a few remarks about the Rimsky-Korsakov operas in general, and in doing so take issue with the comments of Arthur Lintgen in Fanfare 33:6, in which he suggests that the best way to hear music from these works is in the form of orchestral suites. I have seen most of Rimsky’s operas on stage in Russia and elsewhere and have never found them to be “too long and dramatically static,” but rather vastly entertaining and often quite moving. The suites always leave me dissatisfied because I want to hear the rest of the wonderful music I know is present in the complete operas, most of it in vocal and choral writing that Lintgen dismisses. To prove my point, one need go no further than the gorgeous sequence of choruses, arias, and ensembles that opens Sadko . I can’t imagine that anyone who enjoys the music of the suites would want to forgo hearing that! One cannot appreciate Rimsky’s greatness as a composer without knowing the operas, and in complete form, not from a few orchestral fragments.

The libretto of Sadko was put together by the composer himself, with the assistance of several literary collaborators, and is drawn from medieval folk epics and tales. A kind of Russian Orpheus figure, whose singing has the power to tame supernatural forces, Sadko is a minstrel in the city of Novgorod, in northwestern Russia near the Baltic. Called upon to sing the praises of his native city and its wealthy merchants, he instead berates the merchants for their complacency and self-satisfaction, urging them to broaden their horizons and set sail for foreign lands with their wares. Ostracized, he retreats to the shores of Lake Ilmen, where his singing attracts the attention of Volkhova, the favorite daughter of the Sea Tsar, and her sisters, who rise from the depths to greet him. Enraptured, Sadko courts Volkhova, forgetting that he is already married. She, equally enthralled, reveals that she is destined to marry a mortal and tells him of the three golden fish he will catch if he casts his net into the lake in the morning. Back in Novgorod, Sadko wagers that he can catch golden fish, a wager he predictably wins. Now rich, he prepares to carry out the plan he proposed to the merchants, but before doing so he invites the visiting Varangian (Viking), Indian and Venetian merchants to tell of their lands, giving rise to the famous arias that are frequently excerpted for vocal recitals. Twelve years pass. Sadko’s ship, returning from a long voyage, is becalmed at sea because he has failed to pay tribute to the Sea Tsar. To placate that dreaded lord, Sadko must descend to the depths of the sea. Once there, he quickly wins over the Sea Tsar with his singing and is promised Volkhova’s hand in marriage. The entire court begins to dance, stirring up violent storms at sea and swamping numerous ships. After the Sea Tsar orders rivers to overflow and “destroy the Orthodox people,” a mysterious figure appears, identified in the libretto only as the “Apparition” or the “Ancient” (but in the source epic as St. Nicholas of Mozhaisk, the patron saint of Russian sailors). He strips the Sea Tsar of his powers and orders Sadko to return to Novgorod, where Volkhova will be transformed into the Volkhov River, giving Novgorod an outlet from Lake Ilmen to the sea. Back in Novgorod, Sadko is restored to his long-suffering wife, Liubava, amid general rejoicing at his return, at the city’s good fortune, and at the miracles that have brought this about.

The cast of this DVD features in the principal roles three of the most prominent singers from the Bolshoi company of that period, and they live up to expectations. With much fervor and urgency, steady and well-focused tone, plenty of vocal power, and ringing high notes, Vladimir Atlantov is a major asset in the title role. His dramatic tenor is at its best when he can assert himself forcefully. Tamara Milashkina is charming as Volkhova and especially moving in her final aria bidding farewell to the sleeping Sadko before her transformation. Her voice blends well with Atlantov’s in their duets. As Liubava, the late Irina Arkhipova (the recording is dedicated to her memory) is moving in her second-act lament over her neglect by Sadko. Mezzo Nina Grigorieva sings well in the trouser role of Nezhata, a minstrel from Kiev, although her costume does not succeed very well in covering up her female attributes. Bass Aleksandr Ognivtsev, whom I remember mainly for bellowing his way tonelessly through a performance of Boris Godunov in 1974, is actually effective as the fearsome Varangian Merchant as long as the part remains low in his range, as it does until near the end. Tenor Lev Kuznetsov, normally featured in dramatic roles, does a good job in the lyric role of the Indian merchant. Baritone Aleksandr Voroshilo is excellent as the Venetian Merchant (more about this role below). The chorus is a very major player in this opera, and the Bolshoi chorus is predictably superb. Conductor Yury Simonov provides lively and alert leadership.

The staging by Boris Pokrovsky, a director renowned in Russia and responsible for many of the Bolshoi productions of this era, is predictably old-fashioned and free from the idiocies of contemporary Regietheater. There is no concept other than the one envisioned by the libretto, no pointless updating, no ridiculous anachronisms, no superfluous gimmickry, no tendentious efforts at relevance. The sets realistically depict the scenes described in the libretto and are picturesque and sometimes spectacular. The mono sound is generally good, with reasonable clarity and detail, although dynamic levels are not always consistent and compression is sometimes noticeable. Picture quality is good, especially considering that the recording emanates from Russian television archives and was not intended for public distribution.

This Bolshoi recording faces competition from its St. Petersburg rival, the Kirov (aka Mariinsky) Theatre, on a Philips DVD. The latter has an advantage in picture and especially sound quality, with stereo and surround, a wider and more consistent dynamic range, and greater clarity and spaciousness. The Kirov production, too, dates from a time before malignant influences from the West began to affect Russian operatic stagecraft. (Evidently that Iron Curtain had some benefits after all.) The Kirov sets and costumes are based on designs by the well-known artist Konstantin Korovin (1861–1939) for a 1910 production and are lavish and colorful. However, I prefer the Bolshoi sets for many of the scenes. As Sadko, Vladimir Galusin cannot match Atlantov in beauty and solidity of tone and shows some strain in high notes. Still, he sings fervently and affectingly much of the time, and with more nuance than Atlantov. Valentina Tsidipova is ravishing as Volkhova. With flawless technique, purity and beauty of tone, effortlessly floated high notes, and ardent commitment, she surpasses the very good performance of the better-known Milashkina. I judge the roles of the Varangian Merchant (Bulat Minzhelkiev) and the Sea Tsar (Sergei Aleksashkin) to be superior in the Kirov performance, although Boris Morozov is imposing enough in the latter role for the Bolshoi. As Liubava, Marianna Tarassova is lighter of voice than Arkhipova but equally effective in the role. In the other roles, the two casts are about equal. The Kirov chorus and orchestra are a match for their Bolshoi counterparts. Valery Gergiev’s leadership seems a bit less urgent but more flowing than that of Simonov. The Kirov DVD would probably have to be considered the first choice based on its superior sound quality and a performance that is overall the equal of its rival, but I also recommend this Bolshoi version for the excellence of its performance and staging. True lovers of Russian opera will need both.

And now a postscript about the three characters frequently identified as the “guests” (Varangian, Indian, and Venetian) in English. The word for “guest” in modern Russian ( gost’ ) had another meaning in medieval times. It referred to a wealthy merchant, and that is the meaning clearly intended in the libretto, so these roles should be labeled merchants, not guests. A further issue attaches to the merchant normally designated “Venetian” in English, or for that matter in any language other than Russian. The Russian word for “Venetian” is venetsianskii , but the character in the opera is vedenetskii , from a city called Vedenets, not Venice ( Venetsiia ). So what is Vedenets? A Russian acquaintance once claimed to me that it is a mythical town, but I have been unable to confirm this assertion. In fact, I’ve been unable to find any reference to Vedenets in the numerous Russian encyclopedias, dictionaries, and works on folklore that I consulted, other than references to the opera itself. The description of the city in this merchant’s aria (“And once a year a beautiful church arises from the blue sea …”) does suggest a mythical rather than real place, but then again all the descriptions in the merchant arias are rather fanciful.

FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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Works on This Recording

Sadko by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Performer:  Lev Kuznetsov (Tenor), Valery Jaroslavtsev (), Alexandre Ognivtsev (Bass),
Petr Glubokiy (), Andrei Sokolov (Tenor), Nina Grigorieva (Mezzo Soprano),
Tamara Milashkina (), Vladimir Atlantov (Tenor), Boris Morozov (Bass),
Irina Arkhipova (Mezzo Soprano), Alexander Voroshilov (Baritone)
Conductor:  Yuri Simonov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,  Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1896; Russia 

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