Cineworld, West India Quay
Prince Igor – Ildar AbdrazakovPrince Galitsky – Mikhail Petrenko
Vladimir Igorevich – Sergey Semishkur
Skula – Vladimir Ognovenko
Yeroshka – Andrey Popov
Yaroslavna – Oksana Dyka
Polovtsian Maiden – Kiri Deonarine
Konchakovna – Anita Rachvelishvili
Ovlur – Mikhail Vekua
Khan Konchak – Štefan Kocán
Yaroslavna’s Nurse – Barbara Dever
Dmitri Tcherniakov (director, set designs)
Elena Zaitseva (costumes)
Gleb Filhtinsky (lighting)
Itzik Galili (choreography)
S Katy Tucker (projection designs)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus (chorus master: Donald Palumbo)Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)
Curiously enough, all the members of our circle seem to come together on my Igor: from the ultra-innovatory realist Modest Petrovich, to the hyric-dramatic innovator César Antonovich [Cui], to the martinet with respect to outward form and musical tradition Nikolay Andreyevich, to the ardent champion of novelty and power in all things, Vladimir Vasil’yevich Stasov. Everyone is satisfied with Igor, strongly though they may differ about other things.
Tcherniakov’s typically thoughtful direction played no small part in that outcome – though I am a little surprised that it did not cause a riot at this most reactionary of major houses. (Perhaps it was easier to do something interesting in a work not so many of the audience would have known, or indeed which the more reactionary elements in a typical audience would not have attended? Or maybe, just maybe, excellent direction opened their eyes and ears, in which case three cheers to them as well as to production and performances!) Tcherniakov places much of the action (earlier twentieth-century) in what seems to be a dream world, and which is clearly no mere fantasy. Or rather, it is a fantasy in which we are complicit, orientalism and all, Tcherniakov’s treatment pointing to and indeed working out out one of the potential problems with the score: a musical as well as a critical move. Following a chilling, militaristic Prologue – does Russian historical drama ever fail to be relevant to our present? – Igor falls at the opening of what is now the first act, video footage illustrating the fate of ‘our’ boys on the battlefield. (I suspect the projections would have registered more strongly in the theatre, a cinema broadcast not being the ideal mode of presentation. We got the idea, though.) The Polotsvian world thus becomes Igor’s dream – and ours. Sickly eroticised choreography as well as personified, characterised temptations of the flesh question our Orientalist fantasies as well as those of the Khan’s ‘guest’. A spectacular poppy field prompts thoughts both of opium and of Flanders carnage. Quite whether the second and third acts are ‘real’ or not remains in question. The relatively conventional – knowingly so –setting for the political machinations at Igor’s court in the second act suggest reality as well as Mussorgskian realism. But we question, as indeed we do in the third act, to what extent this world and the need for Igor’s return are the prince’s own construction. Shades, then, of Rienzi and countless other charismatic heroes, are suggested, but the audience is treated in adult fashion, prompted to make up its own mind, to make its own way through what may or may not be more than Taruskin’s ‘smorgåsbord’. This, undoubtedly, is opera as drama – as my clearly-impressed mother, seeing her first cinema broadcast of opera, commented afterwards.
In the title role, Ildar Abdrazakov was superb, doing more than anyone could reasonably have asked of him. Neither musical nor dramatic commitment – in reality, and even in ‘high definition’ reality, they were as one – could be faulted, in a tireless performance, both troubling and moving. Mikhail Petrenko brought shades of his controversial Hagen to the role of Prince Galitsky: what a deliciously devious villain he can be! As Yaroslavna, Igor’s Penelope, as it were, Oksana Dyka offered a dignified portrayal, conflicted yet ever true, both to husband and to her people. Anita Rachvelishvili, whom I had thought sadly miscast as Covent Garden’s Carmen, was here utterly in her element as the embodiment of Oriental temptation, Konchakovna. There was gravedigger-style mendicant humour from the accomplished Skula and Yeroshka of Vladimir Ognovenko and Andrey Popov, a beautifully-sung and –acted Nurse from Barbara Dever, a nicely menacing Khan Konchak from Štefan Kocán, and much more: not, for me at least, a weak link in the cast, and Tcherniakov’s detailed direction paid enormous dividends in every case.
A sprawling, problematical epic, then, was revealed through performances and staging alike to have more than enough worthy of salvage. Borodin’s unfinished opera – here fascinatingly, if not always quite convincingly, finished by others – emerged as a wayward yet honoured successor to the masterpieces of Mussorgsky. This co-production with the Dutch National Opera demands a DVD release.