Rimsky-Korsakov - The Czar’s Bride

Châtelet, Paris, Friday June 27 2003

Conductor: Hans Graf. Production: Temur Tchkeidze. Liubasha: Elena Manistina. Sobakine: Denis Sedov. Marfa: Olga Triofonova. Griaznoï: Ludovic Tézier. Skuratov: Albert Schagidullin. Lykov: Mikhaïl Dawidoff. Orchestre National Bordeaux-Aquitaine, Chorus of the Opéra National de Bordeaux.

Ill-timed strikes hit wrong opera

I’d planned at this time to write a review of Don Giovanni, tacking on brief coverage of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Czar’s Bride at the end. In the event, strikes have hit the end of the season in Paris and summer festivals throughout France. So, instead of Don Giovanni at the Bastille I had an unexpectedly early dinner, without the Commandatore, at the brasserie next door, and all I have left to recount is the very forgettable production of the Czar’s Bride.

This was presented as part of a “Festival of the Regions” and was the city of Bordeaux’ contribution, rounding off a Russian season at the Châtelet (a kind of Paris equivalent of the New York City Opera). “The Regions” is a nice way of saying "the provinces", but the good people of Bordeaux must have been taken aback earlier this year to be offered quite such a provincial affair as this. As it happens, my neighbour was Bordelais; his comment was that it took him back to opera in his home town in the 60s and 70s. These days, Bordeaux is surely used to more sophisticated fare than cardboard cut-out sets, costumes tailored from furnishing fabrics, and a style of acting that disappeared with the silent movie. Not to mention all eyes glued to the conductor. A strike might have been welcome.

However, what I did want to mention on this site was that there were three young singers to watch out for.

The baritone Ludovic Tézier (Griaznoï) has in fact been around for some time and started a recording career (e.g. in Lucie de Lammermoor with Natalie Dessay and Roberto Alagna) but it’s worth pointing out how well he’s maturing. The voice is strong and dark and he has has dark good looks that will work especially well in evil roles.

Soprano Olga Trifonova (Marfa), from the Mariinsky Theatre, is a crystalline soprano, combining high notes with unexpected power, of a kind you expect to hear more on historic recordings than today: the kind that used to be called “nightingales,” which is appropriate as, according to one web site, she recorded the part of the Nightingale in The Nightingale with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Robert Craft. She is already singing the high Russian roles as well as the Queen of the Night, and I can imagine her one day taking on Sophie in Rosenkavalier. But hers is the kind of "old-fashioned" voice that makes you wonder if there might be a chance for a decent revival of some of Massenet's works, for example, or other neglected operas with parts written high in the range.

Most impressive of all was Elena Manistina (Liubasha). I see she was in the finals of the BBC Singer of the Year competition last weekend, a couple of days after her performance at the Châtelet. We had already heard her there in The Golden Cockerel and in Tchaikovsky’s Yolanta, in what sounded like alto roles. As Liubasha we discovered that she is also a mezzo - and with soprano possibilities. In other words, this 29-year-old’s firm, round, powerful voice covers a wide range and we will no doubt soon find her singing an unusually young Azucena, Ulrica and – why not? – Eboli. At the moment rather a placid actress, I believe she could, with training, have considerable stage presence: she’s really the one to watch. But these predictions can go wrong, of course. A couple of years ago, Albert Schagidullin seemed to have great potential. The houses that snapped him up at that time for the next few years may be regretting it now.

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