Island City Opera's Rimsky Korsakov Double Bill
January 29, 2018
* Notes *
Island City Opera just finished a run of the obscure operas by Rimsky-Korsakov at the Elks Lodge in Alameda yesterday. The performance was one of the best I've heard from them, not in small part because of the conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya and the fine cast.
Music Director of the Chicago Opera Theater, Maestra Yankovskaya had the orchestra sounding spirited and together. She has an elegant authority, and though the orchestra was occasionally ahead of the singers, it was impressive how different the musicians sounded with her in the lead. The harp was particularly nice.
The first piece was Mozart and Salieri, a very talky affair with only two singers that was thus done in English rather than Russian. The libretto is comes from Pushkin's play based on the rumor that Salieri had poisoned Mozart, and baritone Anders Froehlich's Salieri is suitably jealous but uptight. Darron Flagg is a sweet, amiable Mozart. Both singers had clear diction, I hardly needed the supertitles to understand them. The translation, by stage director Richard Bogart and conductor Yankovskaya, was natural enough with colloquialisms of American English peppered though it.
The second opera, Kashchey the Immortal, is more stereotypically Russian and involves a princess trapped by a villainous wizard whose death hides in his daughter's tears. The singing here was in Russian, and marked an American premiere of the work. Alex Boyer was transformed convincingly into the title role, the tips of his fingers covered by metal claws, his face covered with theatrical makeup. Soprano Rebecca Nathanson sang the princess (Tsarevna) with an almost outrageous beauty.
I very much enjoyed the touches of humor in the piece. Kashchey has Tsarevna look into a magic mirror and asks what she sees. She describes herself, as the mirror has not yet shown her Kashchey's daughter Kashcheyevna, who enchants and murders knights looking to destroy Kashchey. There's also a storm knight, played perfectly by baritone Bojan Knezevic, who is very amusing, blustering around in a cape covered with clouds.
The production in both operas was very straightforward yet effective. The metamorphosis of Kashcheyevna into a weeping willow was particularly artful. A few dancers arrayed in green wrap her with a trunk and arrange her boughs.
* Tattling *
The last performance was sold out and I had to put myself on a waiting list, but got in right before curtain. It was fun to see so many San Francisco Opera regulars in Alameda.