This inestimable recording is one of the supreme performances to have emerged from the Soviet Union. It features blazing stellar lights of the Bolshoi, and is lead by the stupendous Nikolai Golovanov, one of the most gifted and exciting conductors of the 20th century.
Golovanov breathes life into this series of episodes in the legendary story of the hero Sadko. Myth comes alive in the hands of these great artists, as the opera sweeps through the saga of the enterprising, and quite capitalistic figure, the singing adventurer Sadko, who wants to broaden the commercial market of the free city of Novgorod.
Sadko is a bit of a Russian Tannhauser, a singer whose beautiful voice captivates both a human woman and a magical goddess, in this case the daughter of the Sea King. She's quite the catch for Sadko, since she resolves the duplicity of his love life by turning herself into a river that allows the free citizens of Novgorod to travel the seas with their wares.
In this pagan tale, there is no guilt or punishment for Sadko's dallying with the magical princess. He's rewarded for his gifts as an artist and visionary global businessman with great personal wealth and fame. No religious culpability here in this tale of wonder brought to the stage by the brilliant opera composer Rimsky-Korsakov.
The cast, chorus and orchestra are literally on fire. There is such excitement, such glorious singing in this recording that I never tire of listening to it. The other extant recordings of Sadko pale by comparison. Gergiev, Svetlanov and Simonov can't hold a candle to Sadko in the hands of the master. Rimsky-Korsakov - Sadko / Vladimir Galouzine, Gegam Grigorian, Sergei Alexashkin, Larissa Diadkova, Nikolai Putilin, Valery Gergiev, Kirov Opera / Rimsky-Korsakov: Sadko
The real heroes in this recording are many. Georgi Nelepp, the Bolshoi's leading dramatic tenor of this era, has a voice of such strength and vocal beauty one can only wonder why he wasn't more well known in the West. A kind of Russian Jussi Bjorling, Nelepp's nuanced voice is gorgeous from ringing top to sensuous bottom - big, expressive, heroic and under control. The other cast members who make this a dream of a recording are also famous Soviet artists of this era: Ivan Kozlovsky, Mark Reizen and Pavel Lisitsian make cameo appearances in the famous market place scene.
And of course, there's Golovanov, the master. A more exciting conductor could not be found. He was the head waters from which flowed the great opera conducting tradition which ran through Melik-Pashayev, Khaikin, Kondrashin, and Ermler.
In keeping with the mythological nature of this opera, there is something archetypal about this recording. All the voices are perfect for the roles, the chorus is tight, dramatic and powerful, and the conducting is thrilling throughout the dramatic unfolding of the legend.
This recording has appeared and disappeared on various labels. Currently this is one of the only versions available for purchase.