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Tschaikowski: Iolanta / Strawinsky: Persephone
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Iolanta is a one act lyric opera, sung in Russian, by Tchaikovsky. Performed in the style of a nineteenth-century Italian melodrama, the scenes have a recitative introduction followed by a single arioso, aria, duet or chorus.
Persephone is a three act melodrama, sung in French, by Stravinsky. It is a story of regeneration, symbolised in Sellars use of dancers from the Cambodian dance company, Amrita Performing Arts.
Peter Sellars, one of the most innovative creators on today's stage, has linked these two productions by using the same stage setting, instantly archaic yet modern, and lit by rich colours to define the journey from darkness to light.
Iolanta is one act lyric opera by Tchaikovsky, sung in Russian. Princess Iolanta is born blind; her father, King René, forbids anyone to talk of beatuy, light or the natural world hoping that she will not recognize her affliction. For Tchaikovsky, a fairytale was not an escape from reality but an opportunity to speak of forbidden reality. His imaginary kingdom is a place of secret remorse and private hurt, redeemed by an African Sufi healer and torrential, relentless, unlikely love. This intimate final opera is spiritually charged Mozartian journey through darkness into light.
Iolanta - Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Vaudemont - Pavel Cernoch
King René - Dmitry Ulianov
Ibn-Hakia - Willard White
Robert - Alexej Markov
Bertrand - Pavel Kudinov
Almeric - Vasily Efimov
Marta - Ekaterina Semenchuk
Brigitta - Irina Churilova
Laura - Letitia Singleton
Persephone is a three act melodrama by Stravinsky, sung in French. In Andre Gide's Homeric poem, Persephone goes into the underworld of her own free will, moved by compassion for those who must live there, poignantly evoking Christian sacrifice, and poetically suggesting a dawning awareness of the Stalin Terror of mass collectivization. A ritual drawn from the earliest agricultural myths of Western civilization, for Stravinsky it became a second Rite of Spring, a dance of renewal to music of unexpected tenderness and grace. This regeneration is felt in the delicate choreography of Cambodian dancers from Amrita Performing Arts.
Eumolpe - Paul Groves
Persephone - Dominique Blanc
Young Singers of the Jorcam
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real
(Coro Intermezzo and Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid)
Chorus Master: Andres Maspero
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But the opera itself is intriguing. In the early stages, I agreed with the reviewer above. But as it developed, and the simple plot emerged, so the music developed, until, by the end, we hear some of Tchaikovsky's best operatic work (admittedly, being a one-acter, only in 3 or 4 set pieces. It is as if Tchaikovsky wanted the music to develop, as the simple story developed.
I have little to add to what has been written above, except to say, listen to this a number of times. The music will grow on you and reveal qualities that may not be apparent at first listening. It is one of Tchaikovsky's last works, and far from bing inferior, is an essay in musical development, composed by a master composer and presented by good voices. I always advocate that an opera should be seen and a lot can be lost by listening to CD versions. I think this is one case where the glamourous staging contributes little to appreciating the rare work.
Persophone is a little bit more difficult. The libretto by Andre Gide is quite dense and needs full attention. I am sure something is missed in the translation to English for those who don't understand French. I was not convinced by the minimalistic approach. I felt something was missing, in particular because it is difficult to visualize the transition between the abduction, Hell and then back to Earth. The Cambodian dancers are a nice addition although at some points it gets a little bit confusing. The general theme is too big for an intimate production in my opinion. Sellars linked both operas as the search for light, which is interesting and meaningful. The pamphlet enclosed in the Blu-Ray disc lacks more details on the operas themselves.