Iolanta is a one act lyric opera, sung in Russian, by Tchaikovsky. Performed in the style of a nineteenth-century Italian melodrama, the scenes have a recitative introduction followed by a single arioso, aria, duet or chorus.
Persephone is a three act melodrama, sung in French, by Stravinsky. It is a story of regeneration, symbolised in Sellars use of dancers from the Cambodian dance company, Amrita Performing Arts.
Peter Sellars, one of the most innovative creators on today'sRead more stage, has linked these two productions by using the same stage setting, instantly archaic yet modern, and lit by rich colours to define the journey from darkness to light.
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
Iolanta – Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Vaudémont – Pavel Cernoch
King René – Dmitry Ulianov
Ibn-Hakia – Willard White
Robert – Alexey Markov
Bertrand – Pavel Kudinov
Alméric – Vasily Efimov
Marta – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Brigitta – Irina Churilova
Laura – Letitia Singleton
Eumolpe – Paul Groves
Perséphone – Dominique Blanc
Young Singers of the JORCAM
Madrid Teatro Real Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Andrés Máspero)
Teodor Currentzis, conductor
Peter Sellars, stage director
George Tsypin, stage designer
Martin Pakledinaz and Helene Siebrits, costume designer
James F. Ingalls, lighting designer
Recorded live at Teatro Real, Madrid, 21 and 24 January 2012
- In Search of the Light: insights on Iolanta and Perséphone
Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian
Running time: 187 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
R E V I E W:
Iolanta, Tchaikovsky’s last opera, has never caught on—for good reason. Although it was originally planned as a companion to Nutcracker (long evening there!), it has neither the timbral magic nor the melodic inspiration of its playmate. Still, if you’re willing to lower your expectations, this grown-up fairy-tale about a blind princess restored to sight through faith and love has plenty to offer. The female quartet that opens the opera, for instance, may borrow too heavily from Eugene Onegin’s equivalent—but its sweet shadows, melancholy with a trace of despair, are affecting, and they provide a good foundation from which the opera can build to its resplendent climax. Iolanta is especially impressive in this surprisingly non-interventionist Peter Sellars production from Madrid’s Teatro Real. Staged with elegant simplicity—modern dress and minimalist set creating a timeless atmosphere just right for a fairy tale—it puts the emphasis squarely on the singers; and these attractive performers, mostly little-known, provide the music with the sweet innocence it requires.
Non-interventionist? Well, not quite. There are a few odd touches. Especially given the purity-and-light thematics of the work, for instance, it seems incongruous for Vaudémont to feel up Iolanta within a few minutes of meeting her, much less for him to wrestle her to the ground soon thereafter. More important, though, are the editorial intrusions. For some reason, Sellars has Shostakovichized the opera in his imagination, seeing the secrecy of the kingdom (Iolanta doesn’t know that she is blind, and no one is allowed to tell her) as prophetic metaphor of Stalinist repression. Fortunately, none of that comes out in the visual aspects of the production—but Sellars’s distaste for Soviet artistic policy does come out in another way.
The Soviets were (not surprisingly) uncomfortable with the religious thread in this work, and the Soviet scores I’ve consulted offer alternative words for those who want to avoid direct references to God. This production is intended, as conductor Teodor Currentzis puts it in the bonus feature, to “restore” the opera. That’s disingenuous on at least two counts. First, there’s nothing new in the return to the original text: It has been used at least since the Rostropovich recording, taped nearly 30 years ago, when Currentzis was still a preteen. More important, though, this supposed “restoration” departs from Tchaikovsky’s original even more than the Soviet editions did. For “restoring,” in this case, doesn’t mean giving us Tchaikovsky’s original text; it means meddling with the score to heighten the Christian imagery of the opera well beyond Tchaikovsky’s intention. Specifically, they’ve inserted, right before the final resolution, seven minutes or so of the “Cherubic Hymn” from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom for unaccompanied choir. It’s a gorgeous piece, but, in terms of idiom, it’s far from Iolanta—and it simply puts the brakes on the opera’s dramatic trajectory, as everyone on stage stands stock still for what seems like an eternity. To add to the damage, they’ve made room for the “Cherubic Hymn” by excising chunks of the opera elsewhere, making it difficult for newcomers to understand the plot.
Still, as I’ve said, the production is visually impressive, and leaves the singers at the center—and they will melt your heart. Ekaterina Scherbachenko, a 30-something Russian singer who won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition a few years back, has a luminous voice, with a vibrato that might be too much for Mozart but seems just right for this arch-romantic music; and without in any way ramping up the melodrama, she captures Iolanta’s emotional trajectory with magnetic force. As her lover, Pavel ?ernoch may at times be too aggressive, but he’s got a winning tone and the dexterity to sing his high notes without forcing them. Dmitry Ulianov is appropriately steady as Iolanta’s clueless father; he doesn’t quite have the depth that the role requires (his climactic low F in his big aria could use more power), but he manages to convey the paradoxes of the part well, creating sympathy even as we recognize him as a man who has made all the wrong choices. The big name among the singers, Willard White, sings the pivotal part of the doctor—the one person on stage who understands what is going on—with tremendous authority; and the supporting cast is impressive (I especially enjoyed the supple interweaving of Iolanta and her three friends in the opening section of the opera). Throughout, the more conversational passages have an impressive degree of naturalness.
Perséphone makes an odd coupling. Sellars talks about Stravinsky’s love of Tchaikovsky—but I don’t think Perséphone is his most Tchaikovskian score, and it’s something of a downer after the glorious, upbeat ending of Iolanta. The production is excellent, though, matching Iolanta in its colors and its use of the stage, and employing dancers from the Amrita Performing Arts of Cambodia to excellent effect. Dominique Blanc manages to read André Gide’s lines without falling into histrionic excess (no easy feat); and if Paul Groves pushes his part a bit at the opening, he soon settles in, singing Eumolpe’s taxing and often ungrateful lines with a fine lyrical sense. Currentzis, who turns in a fine Iolanta, is better still here: Like Stravinsky’s other Greek-inspired scores (Orpheus, Apollo, even Oedipus), Perséphone can easily turn brittle and unengaging. But whether in the surprising sweetness of the orchestral interlude toward the beginning of the second part, the jazziness of the passage beginning three measures before figure 131, or the sense of mystery on the choral “Si tu contemplais le calise,” Currentzis manages to bring out the score’s variety and imagination, giving a good sense of its textures and providing a dance impetus it doesn’t always have. Sight and sound are first-rate. All in all, slightly specialized fare: but well worth your attention.
Iolanta, Op. 69by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Performer:
Ekaterina Semenchuk (Mezzo Soprano),
Dimitri Ulianov (Bass),
Ekaterina Scherbachenko (Soprano),
Willard White (Bass),
Alexey Markov (Baritone),
Pavel Cernoch (Tenor),
Pavel Kudinov (Bass),
Vasily Efimov (Tenor)
Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra,
Madrid Teatro Real Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1891; Russia
Perséphoneby Igor Stravinsky Performer:
Paul Groves (Tenor),
Dominique Blanc (Voice)
Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra,
Madrid Teatro Real Chorus,
JORCAM Young Singers
Period: 20th Century Written: 1933-1934; France
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
An opera full of lightJanuary 7, 2013By J. Salcedo García (Getafe, Madrid)See All My Reviews"Superbo performance, both musically an scenic appearance. Filled whith poetry and tenderness. Essential"Report Abuse