Prince Igor, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, March 2014Posted on 2 March 2014
This opera is about a Russian defeat by the Polovtsians, followed by the redemption of the Russian leader Igor, and the prospect of a future renewal. The Polovtsians were nomadic pastoralists and masters of the south Russian steppes. Also known as Kumans or Kipchaks, they were a Turkic tribal federation occupying lands stretching from the Aral to the Black Sea.
The opera had an 18-year gestation period and was left in something of a mess when Borodin suddenly died in 1887 aged 43. Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, who worked as Borodin’s assistant, put a complete version together, but one cannot know for sure what Borodin himself would have done, and the prospect was open for others to choose what to put in or leave out. Every production must in some sense be a work of reclamation, and for the Metropolitan Opera, director Dmitri Tcherniakov has worked closely with conductor Gianandrea Noseda to bring to stage a new version with a dramatic thread that keeps Igor himself as a focal point.
In this it succeeds very well indeed, apart from the appallingly childish choreography for the Polovtsian dances. They are supposed to represent something in Igor’s mind, and we see video snatches of him lying in the field of poppies where the dances take place, while he cavorts among them as if beyond death in the mythical fields of asphodel. But the choreography suits neither the situation nor the music, though the orchestra under Mr. Noseda played sublimely, and the chorus sang beautifully from boxes near the stage. Pity the camera did not focus on them.
It did of course focus on the singers, with Ildar Abdrazakov giving a finely-nuanced portrayal of Prince Igor. He delivers his insistence on going to war, despite an ominous solar eclipse, with huge vocal authority, yet after the campaign fails he suddenly exposes a different side of his personality, singing with great feeling when expressing his regrets. Wonderful singing, and Oksana Dyka as his wife Yaroslavna sang beautifully, particularly her soliloquy early in Act II, and her emotional monologue at the start of Act III.
Of quite different stuff was the Polovtsian princess Konchakovna, dramatically sung by Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili, a notable Carmen, expressing her love for the freedom of the steppes. As leader of the Polovtsians, Khan Konchak was boldly and sympathetically portrayed by Štefan Kocán, his bass voice and remarkable stage presence lending huge gravitas to the role, a striking contrast to the Russian Prince Galitsky, brilliantly portrayed by Mikhail Petrenko as a scandalous sneering tyrant.
Excellent singing too in the smaller roles of Igor’s son Vladimir Igorevich (Sergey Semishkur), Ovlur (Mikhail Vekua), and I liked the way those two Shakespearean scallywags Skula and Yeroshka, of Rosenkranz and Guildenstern ilk, helped ground things with their dull wits and gentle inebriation. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov has succeeded in bringing great emotional commitment from the entire cast, and the ending when Igor finally rises from despair at his own dishonour to inspire his people with a vision of renewal suggests the dawn of a new world.
A brilliant achievement for the Met, apart from the awful choreographic vision in Act I.