This is indeed A Life for the Tsar, not Ivan Susanin. An opera glorifying the establishment of the Romanov dynasty was an awkward one for the Communists, the more so as the work is with some reason honoured in its own land as the first great Russian opera. The censors found various ways round the problem, and all modern scores (such as the 1978 Muzyka vocal score) contain the version by Sergey Gorodetsky, which gets off to a characteristic start by making the peasants sing "I'll die for Holy Russia" instead of "I'll die for the Tsar, for Rus". They do it rather tentatively here; perhaps that particular kind of folk polyphony, the so-called podgo/osok, comes more easily to Russians than to Bulgarians. They are much betterRead more in the splendid rowing chorus, as the men round the bend in the thawing river to be greeted by the excited villagers: no wonder the first orchestra applauded Glinka's brilliant balalaika pizzicato as they recognized a composer who could write not just imitations, but compose from within Russian idioms. The beautiful 5/4 wedding chorus is charmingly sung, and the final "Slavsya" is properly jubilant as the people hail the Tsar whose throne has been saved by Susanin's sacrifice.
Earlier, deep in the frozen forest where he has deliberately misled the invading Poles, he has sung his great farewell to the last dawn he will see. Boris Martinovich rises well to the occasion of this famous aria; before, he is reflective but not always as firm as the music suggests. His daughter Antonida is sung by Alexandrina Pendachanska. She has a clear, acute voice, with a slight edge to it and under pressure the familiar Slavonic vibrato, but she phrases well and sings with character. Her betrothed, Sobinin, is well taken by Chris Merritt; he has a good sense of line and, like Pendachanska, the ability to make a single expressive gesture in those arias where Glinka's initial Russian enthusiasms dissolve into Italian gestures as he slightly loses his way. Stefania Toczyska sings Vanya's charming song about the little bird affectingly, and also has the character to make a strong dramatic gesture of the scena when he arrives, unhorsed and freezing, to warn of the Poles' seizure of Susanin.
The orchestra plays well for Emil Tchakarov, making much of all the Polish glitter and stamp, and the recording is fair if not outstanding: the voices come across well, but the various effects of space and distance, of arrivals and departures, are not as atmospheric as they might be. No matter: it is splendid to have on record, at last, a good version of Glinka's seminal masterpiece of Russian opera in its true form.
A Life for the Tsarby Mikhail Glinka Performer:
Chris Merritt (Tenor),
Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Soprano),
Stoil Georgiev (Baritone),
Boris Martinovich (Baritone),
Stefania Toczyska (Mezzo Soprano),
Mincho Popov (Tenor),
Kosta Videv (Bass)
Sofia National Opera Chorus,
Sofia Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1834-1836; Russia Language: Russian
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Glinka's other operaMay 21, 2013By Dennis C. (Jackson Heighs, NY)See All My Reviews"This is the first time I have heard this opera. I didn't expect it to be so different from Ruslan and Lyudmila. It was written before Ruslan. The music is much less lively except in the scenes with the Poles (who are the enemy) where you hear the polonaise and mazurka. It is a sober , historical and patriotic narrative about an incident in the 16th century when a peasant gives up his own life to save the life of the tsar. There are many beautiful arias and ensembles. An interesting choice was to have the Poles sing only as a chorus, not as individuals. A highlight for me was a moving trio of lament in the epilogue. The cast was very good."Report Abuse