16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Fabulous and frustrating,
This review is from: Korsakov: Legend of the Invisible City [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Despite winning a major award, this production is deeply controversial. Tchiernikov's concept of this fascinating opera is sometimes intelligent and thought provoking. But I ultimately felt unmoved by his direction, and objected to the fact that the storyline has been rewritten to accomodate his personal desire to tell a certain story. In other words, I find the interpretation disrespectful, however visceral and dramatic the central acts are.
This opera is generally accepted as Rimsky-Korsakov's masterpiece, and it is an unusual and beautiful combination of two "old believer" legends. Bielsky's libretto is crafted in Old Russian, and the Patheistic references to nature as God are philosophical and surprisingly relevent in these ecological times. The pure forest-dweller Fevroniya saves the mystical city with her inherent goodness, and in so doing, gets her Prince, but only through death. This is no fairy tale; It is a Legend, an important distinction. It is certainly good to have a production attempt to explore the serious themes of beauty and goodness destroyed, of patriotism and the meaning of death. These are difficult, powerful subjects.
This production takes us out of Medieval Russia and into a modern warn-torn world, with the apotheosis in paradise apparently now a post-apocalyptic world of hopelessness and madness. Where this production fails, I feel, is in the over complicated, cliched "Regie" storytelling added to an already convoluted plot. And also by the fact that everything, apart from the opening scene, is so irredeemingly ugly that it is quite at odds with the composer's intent. The music, the words, all speak of beauty. Yet there is none.
I appreciate this view of paradise is "all in the mind" and the city - never actually seen in this staging - is invisible to us all. Yet to have the whole chorus - who have so much to do in the final scene - off stage to fit the concept is indulgent. Many ideas here are good ones, but ultimately this really can't be considered the last word on this glorious opera, nor indeed much of a recommendation for it as a repertoire piece. It is trying to make a cohesive, relevent (ie: "gritty"), hard-hitting political drama out of something that is fundamentally intended to be ambiguous, symbolic, subtle, and transcendentally uplifting. The opera has so much more to tell us, much more to give than is revealed here and has a healing heart, something that we are tragically denied in this version.
The singing is uniformly good, with a tremendous central performance of Fevroniya by Svetlana Ignatovitch. Even she cannot eclipse Tatiana Monogarova's Bolshoi performance on Naxos (DVD and CD) - another bizarre production, flawed and confusing, but visually more sympathetic to the music. I don't really feel the need to watch either ever again, although I cherish the audio of both and will happily close my eyes and conjur a production in my imagination that serves the intention of Rimsky-Korsakov and Bielsky more honorably than this does.