Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Tsar's Bride - Barenboim, Milan broadcast

What have things come to, when Ivan The Terrible should now be known as "one of the same characters that inspired Eisenstein", according to the blurb on BBC Radio 3. Ivan the Terrible, supposedly a demonic despot who cast a shadow over all Tsars to come, and the father of the Russian Empire, reduced to a bit part in history?  Eisenstein's 1942 film is a classic, about which I've written  before, but there's a whole lot more to Ivan than the movies. Maybe modern "research" these days depends on what's on page 1 of Google, and look no deeper. 

No trivializing when it comes to Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride, where the Tsar's forceful persona dominates all around him. No trivializing, either, in Barenboim's account for Teatro alla Scala, recorded late last year.  Glorious playing, the riches in the orchestration suggesting the splendour of the Tsar's court . Yet poison seeps from below the surface. Wealth and power mean nothing, when you're paranoid, surrounded by enemies, real or imagined.  Listen HERE to the full broadcast. Fabulous, orchestral playing matched by fabulous singing too. This is what The Tsar's Bride should sound like. The Royal Opera House production a few years ago got attacked because it was  set in the modern world of the new oligarchy. Why not? since human nature doesn't change.  Is it so hard to imagine what it must be like around Vladimir Putin? 

The problem with the ROH production was that it was unidiomatically conducted (Mark Elder), polite watercolour, rather than pulsating blood. If Barenboim and his cast had done that production, the opera would not have been met with the incomprehension it received in London.   Incidentally, there's a film based on Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride. The filming is stunning, though musically it's pretty average.

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