Rimsky-Korsakov The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera House

4.00

The Royal Opera’s first ever staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s rich and surprising opera The Tsar’s Bride sees history repeating itself in unsettling ways.

The poster-coloured prelude has no sooner run its course - one of the composer’s most exhilarating lyric themes in uplifting reprise with sumptuous horns in bracing canon - when the curtain rises not on the 16th century Russia we’ve come to know from 400 years of iconography but the here and now of Putin’s 21st century. The music says one thing, Paul Curran’s mis-en-scène says another; but the reality is one and the same.

In a Moscow restaurant, Grigory Gryaznoy (the charismatic Johan Reuter), a member of the Oprichniki (the KGB that no longer speaks its name) is putting the finishing touches to a hooded, bloodied, half-naked, enemy of the Tsar. But his “loyalty” is about to backfire big-time as Marfa Sobakina, the woman of his dreams, makes the short-list in the Tsar’s search for a new bride. Behold the superstructure of the new free-enterprise Russia: the bought women, the drug tsars and their high-tec merchandise, the penthouse pool parties (wicked designs from Kevin Knight), the hired heavies – all sunglasses and glocks. So here’s Curran’s reality check: the social divide is as great as it ever was in Russia’s Imperial past and those old workers songs, innocent and folksy – Rimsky’s score is rich in them - now take on a compelling irony. Hell, there’s even talk of a royal wedding.

The musical resonances run deep thanks to the swagger and unashamed luxuriance of Mark Elder’s conducting – and there’s a wonderfully varied texture of voices across the casting from the contrasting basses of Paata Burchuladze’s sonorous and worldly weathered Sobakin to the thrilling virility of Alexander Vinogradov’s wily and physically lithe Malyuta-Skuratov. Dmytro Popov’s vibrant tenor epitomises the abandon of young love in the figure of Ivan Likov, Marfa’s intended.

Marina Poplavskaya’s Marfa displays her customary cool but little warmth on stage and the voice (too much vinegar in the mix for my taste) is undermined by failings in technique which don’t allow for those ethereally spun pianissimi in her climactic mad scene.

She is anyway sung off the stage by Ekaterina Gubanova whose Lyubasha – a blond bombshell of a mistress scorned if ever there was one – arrives with an a capella folksong which throws the old and new of this exciting evening into startling relief.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk