The Tsar's Bride, Royal Opera House, London

A Russian rarity proves to be a real treasure in a production set amid the trappings of new money

Look away from the stage for a minute and you'll miss him.

Soberly clad in a cashmere coat, his face unreadable behind dark glasses, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich IV strides through a drab shopping street, his path cleared by six bodyguards. Invisible but for one brief moment in Paul Curran's production of The Tsar's Bride, and entirely absent from the original libretto, he has no need of love potions or poisons. He is omnipotent: feared and revered by his heavies – the oprichniki – and the nouveau riche.

Long regarded as a curiosity piece, Rimsky-Korsakov's 1898 opera on the mysterious death of Ivan the Terrible's third wife is made over as a compelling study of power and powerlessness in Curran's staging. The setting is a dystopic New Russia, a fiefdom of glass and chrome high-rises, rooftop swimming pools, Burberry, Hermès and Dior. The skyline may be state-of-the-art – Kevin Knight's panoramic set designs drew gasps from the first-night audience – but the torture techniques are traditional. This is a world of intimidation and executions, as brutalising to its villains as its victims. As the curtain rises on a blood-spattered Grigory Gryaznoy (Johan Reuter), his hooded, nameless captive expires and is tossed into a laundry trolley. Meanwhile, the Tsar is drawing up a shortlist of women from which to choose his bride.

The plot is crude, even lurid: Lyubasha (Ekaterina Gubanova) loves Gryaznoy, who loves Marfa (Marina Poplavskaya), who loves Likov (Dmytro Popov), who loves her back. When Lyubasha overhears Grigory procuring a love potion from the Tsar's pharmacist, Bomelius (Vasily Gorshkov), she retaliates by procuring poison – swapping the two so that Gryaznoy is the agent of Marfa's long and crazed death at her unwanted wedding to the Tsar. To this broth of thwarted passion, guilt by association and political impotence, Rimsky-Korsakov brings baleful fanfares for brass, gilded harps, vicious marches for the thuggish oprichniki, a feverishly perfumed mad scene for Marfa, and, most surprisingly, a suave and sullen unaccompanied lament for Lyubasha.

What confidence to cast away the orchestra for a strophic song! "Verdi with vodka" is conductor Mark Elder's description of the score, though to my ears the predominant accent is French. The disposition of the instrumentation is arrestingly strange, as though Borodin and Berlioz had collaborated from beyond the grave. Coordination problems aside, this is a riveting performance of a violent, delirious melodrama. From Poplavskaya's febrile mad scene to Gubanova's magnificently desultory lament, Popov's ardent love song and Reuter's disturbingly sexy unravelling, the central quartet is superb, with strong support from Alexander Vinogradov (Malyuta-Skuratov), Anne-Marie Owens (Petrovna), Jurgita Adamonyté (Dunyasha), Paata Burchuladze (Sobakin) and the male chorus of gun-toting enforcers.

To 2 May (020-7304 4000)

Next Week:

Anna Picard is in Leeds for Tim Albery's Opera North Fidelio

Classical Choice

Louis Langrée and the Orchestre de Paris perform Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in concert at London’s Barbican Hall (Tue). Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay are the lovers. Vasily Petrenko conducts the National Youth Orchestra and others in Judith Weir’s We Are Shadows and Mahler’s Symphony No 10 at The Sage, Gateshead (Fri).

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders