Love, betrayal, jealousy, poison and murder – dramatic, operatic elements drive the plot in Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautifully composed Tsar’s Bride. The work dating from 1899 is a fixed opera in the Russian repertoire, however it is rarely performed here in the UK. In fact this is its premiere at the Royal Opera House. Another first for this performance is British director Paul Curran at the ROH.
It was a delight to hear an operatic work by Rimsky-Korsakov who is much better known for his composition of classical music rather than opera. The work, upon first hearing, is enchanting. In fact, he has composed 15 operas in total.
Kevin Knight’s lavish designs are exquisite – it is as if modern, new-money rich Russia has been transported to Covent Garden. From a pool terrace to the interior of the palace – the detail and realistic portrayal of the sets are one of the true strengths of this production. I was captivated.
The four-act tragedy, based on factual occurrences surrounding the death of Ivan Vasilvevich IV’s wife, follows a young Marfa, in love with her childhood love Likov. The Tsar’s choosing her, out of a line-up of 2,000 women, to be his wife results in disaster. The ever popular Marfa is also lusted after by the nasty Gryaznoy. The plot follows a slow, but steady growing tension that leads up to the final scene of Marfa losing her sanity. The performances, a number of the singers authentically Russian, were both tender and strong in equal measures.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s fold-inspired orchestral score soars dramatically through the opera house under the expert direction of Mark Elder. The harp is well utilized in an ornate, decorative fashion. The softness of the notes was at sharp contrast with the anguish on stage. The atmosphere evoked was decisive and effective.
The parallels between the 16th century oppressive rule of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible and today’s Russian mafia are clearly drawn. It very much feels a police state as the Tsar is sends his ruffian body guards dressed in all black and designer sunglasses to handle all affairs. There is an element of vulgarity in the nouveau riche extravagance displayed in the outer circle of the social climbing court, today’s oligarchs. This production makes direct comments about todays chauvinistic, wealth obsessed aspect of Russian society. It is also a clear critique on actions being carried out in the name of the Tsar, in the name of the state, for the people.
For more information, visit www.roh.org.uk