The Snowmaiden, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2014Posted on 25 March 2014
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snowmaiden: A Spring Fairy Tale, like many Russian operas, is a series of tableaux, brilliantly realised here in a production by Christopher Cowell.
The simple yet highly effective designs by Bridget Kimak, atmospherically lit by Jake Wiltshire, gave a magical quality to the world of the Berendeyans, who have been in the grip of Father Frost for sixteen years. He has remained with Mother Spring to look after their child Snyegurochka — the Snowmaiden — rather than retreat to the northern tundra, but Snyegurochka, now fifteen wants to join the human world.
So she does, and enchanted by the songs of the shepherd boy Lyel, desires him above all others. In the meantime, the merchant Mizgir, who has promised to marry Kupava, daughter of a wealthy villager, becomes smitten by Snyegurochka, and breaks off his engagement. Kupava brings her complaint to the local Tsar, and after much ado she eventually finds love with Lyel. Seeing affection blossom in this way, Snyegurochka’s heart melts, she accepts Mizgir, and in her newly aroused passion forgets her mother’s warning about staying in the forest, away from the sunlight. The sun strikes her, she melts and the inconsolable Mizgir ends his life, stabbing himself with an ice dagger in this production. Thus ends the long winter, and the people sing a thankful hymn to the sun god.
The singing and movement of the student chorus, sometimes to music in unusual time signatures, was a joy, and they carried off this ancient tale — based on a play by Ostrowski — to great effect. Among the guest principals, Martyna Kasprzyk sang beautifully in the mezzo roles of both Mother Spring and Lyel, and Vanessa Bowers showed a very pretty soprano as Snyegurochka. Diction was a bit variable among the cast, which was a shame as we could not fully appreciate the translation by director Christopher Cowell himself, but the staging added its own clarity. Fine diction however from Katerina Mina as Kupava with a dramatic stage presence, and Sheridan Edward was vocally very effective as the Tsar.
Several solo performances from the students were a pleasure to hear, none more so than the Second Herald of Joseph Dodd, who also served as the producer. Congratulations to him, and to conductor Charles Peebles, for bringing this opera to stage in such an appealing production. I loved the moment when Kupava and Lyel find love together, and Mother Spring’s appearance in Act IV was magnificent.
Performances continue until March 29 — for details click here.