Rubinstein The Demon, Mariinsky Theatre/ Gergiev, Barbican Hall
Monday 02 February 2009
Operatic history is strewn with the casualties of changing fashion.
Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon – the second offering in the Mariinsky Theatre’s brief residency at the Barbican – is just such a piece: a bold, often innovative, creation, precursor to so much that would quickly overshadow it. With tolling tam-tam and a nod to Boito’s Mephistopheles it roars into its choral Prologue, spirits of Heaven and Hell vying for supremacy. Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Chorus are at once the dark, grainy, genuine article. There’s a touch of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini in the whirlwind (how ironical, in the light of Rubinstein’s rudeness over Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, that the younger man should do everything so much better than his celebrated predecessor) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ornate way with vocal lines will be a distinctive feature of the opening scenes. You can see why it did, and still does, carry the wow factor in Russia.
There are some very effective scenes in The Demon. There’s the scene where our arrogant protagonist (and it’s one hell of a role) lulls the heroine’s betrothed into a big, fateful, sleep and Gergiev, invoking the most tremulous pianissimo imaginable in his strings, seemed to invoke Berlioz along with it; and there’s the climactic scene of act one where the silver-tongued Demon – in an absolutely corking aria – strives to lure the heroine Tamara into an immortal embrace, thus ending his eternal loneliness. Yevgeny Nikitin delivered such soaring, charismatic, legati at this point that you might almost have believed his promise to renounce evil. He is precisely what the role and the opera needs: physically, vocally, a complete star. Alright, so the voice is a little rough around the break and he deploys that irritating East European mannerism of flattening pitch as an expressive device. But, in every other respect, wow.
Character is, of course, part and parcel of Mariinsky voices. Refinement is harder to find - and both the tenor, Yevgeny Akimov, and the soprano, Irma Gigolaty, possessors of big open sounds, proved less able to manage the bel canto enticements. She did rise to the heavily protracted (rather too protracted) final scene with some whopping notes and much emotive passion. But as the angels transported her soul heavenward all I was thinking was how much more memorably Tchaikovsky despatched Herman’s wounded soul into the hereafter at the close of The Queen of Spades.
Still, good to have the Mariinsky company exporting something they plainly love so much.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland