Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniia
Aleksandr Vedernikov, cond; Tatiana Monogarova
(Prince Vsevolod Yurievich);
(Prince Yury Vsevolodovich);
et al; Cagliari Teatro Lirico Ch & O
NAXOS 8.660288-90 (3 CDs: 180:36) Live: Cagliari 5/2–4/2008
Rimsky-Korsakov is one of the great opera composers, and
is one of his finest achievements, so any addition to its limited discography is welcome. Advance announcements of this release listed Albert Schagidullin as a member of the cast, leading me to believe that this was a different performance from the one on the Naxos DVD set I reviewed in
35:5. As it turns out, Schagidullin is nowhere to be found on the cast list, and the CD release just recycles that very same performance. I refer readers to the DVD review for a discussion of the opera itself and comments on the singers in this cast. I found much fault with the staging of this Cagliari Teatro Lirico production (as did Lynn René Bayley in her tandem review), while allowing that it “is not a total loss and does not completely sabotage enjoyment of the opera.” I think it is valuable to see an unfamiliar opera staged (and I assume
is unfamiliar to most readers) as long as the staging represents with reasonable fidelity the events laid out in the libretto, even if that representation is unsatisfactory. Opportunities to see this opera outside of its Russian homeland are very limited, and no other videos of it have ever been issued. Nonetheless, those who wish to acquire this performance without its video component now have that opportunity, and both Bayley and I were much more favorable in assessing its musical values.
Among the three currently available CD sets, the best overall cast is to be found in the 1956 Melodiya recording led by Vasily Nebolsin, reissued on CD by Preiser. Its drawbacks are the lack of a libretto and mono sound that although decent is predictably no match in clarity and detail for later stereo recordings. In that league, the Naxos release competes with the 1994 Kirov (Mariinsky) production led by Valery Gergiev (originally on Philips, now reissued on Decca).
Tatiana Monogarova’s realization of the role of Fevroniia received enthusiastic praise from both Bayley and myself in reviews of the Naxos DVD release. Her compelling stage presence is of course missing from the CD version, but her radiant vocalism remains. The Kirov’s Galina Gorchakova has a distinctive sound, including some slightly squally high notes, but for the most part she sings beautifully, phrases precisely, and comes close to rivaling Monogarova, although she does not have the latter’s warm, mezzo-like midrange. Among major roles, the dry and lusterless tenor of Vitaly Panfilov, as Prince Vsevolod, is the weak link in the Naxos cast. The Kirov’s Yury Marusin has more of the vocal strength needed for this heroic role, but his high-tension delivery will not be to everyone’s taste. Baritones Gevorg Hakobyan (Naxos) and Nikolai Putilin (Kirov) are both excellent as the court huntsman Fedor Poyarok. The former has the smoother voice, the latter more tonal weight and a far more anguished and dramatic approach in the third act when he delivers news of the Tatar ravages. The character tenor Mikhail Gubsky, on Naxos, is excellent as the drunken vagabond Grishka Kuter’ma. The Kirov’s Vladimir Galuzin goes farther in projecting the character’s depravity and degradation in vocal terms, but the results, although dramatically effective, can be harder on the ear. The role of Prince Yury, the ruler of Kitezh, is well served in both recordings, but I would rate the Kirov’s Nikolai Okhotnikov superior on the basis of his greater tonal solidity and more dramatic delivery. As the Page Boy, a mezzo role, both singers are good, but the Kirov’s Olga Korzhenskaya has the more beautiful voice and gives a better-controlled and more focused performance. The Tatar chieftains have greater vocal weight and are consequently more powerful and menacing in the Kirov performance. I also have a slight preference for the Kirov Birds of Paradise, Sirin and Alkonost. The Gusli Player’s haunting prophecy of doom in the second act is much better sung (by Mikhail Kit) in the Kirov performance. Other minor roles in that act, such as the Bear Tamer and the Notables, also are better handled in the Kirov recording. Gergiev’s leadership is generally more dynamic and highly charged, and his rendering of the orchestral interlude depicting the Russian warriors’ unsuccessful battle against the Tatars is more violent and terrifying. On the other hand, he is slow and reverential in much of the fourth act, and he allows occasional imprecisions of ensemble. In this operatic realization of medieval legends, there is also something to be said for Aleksandr Vedernikov’s steadier and more reserved approach on Naxos. The Kirov orchestra has greater tonal weight and color than its Cagliari counterpart, although the latter does a creditable job. The Cagliari chorus is quite good, but that of the Kirov is more massive and forceful and achieves greater power in its climactic outbursts.
Like the DVD, the Naxos CD release has a generally spacious and transparent sound, with occasional tinniness in the treble. The Kirov recording has more bass presence, a wider dynamic range, and greater depth and impact. The Naxos CD version does not have the dropout near the beginning of the fourth act that occurs on the DVD. Stage noise is more obtrusive in the Kirov recording. Unlike Naxos, which provides no texts even via download, the Kirov recording comes with a full libretto, or at least the original Philips release did. I haven’t seen the Decca reissue, but I can report that it is actually cheaper than the Naxos, another point in its favor.
In the competition between the two stereo recordings, the Kirov version would seem to win on points, but there is also much to enjoy in the Naxos offering, which is a useful addition to the discography of this fascinating opera. Monogarova, especially, is not to be missed.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Mikhail Gubsky (Tenor),
Alexander Naumenko (Bass),
Tatiana Monogarova (Soprano),
Vitaly Panfilov (Tenor),
Mikhail Kazakov (Bass),
Albert Schagidullin (Baritone)
Cagliari Theater Chorus,
Cagliari Theater Orchestra
Written: 1903-1905; Russia
Date of Recording: May 4, 2008 Live
Venue: Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Sardinia
Length: 187 Minutes 0 Secs.
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