BWW Reviews: THE TSAR'S BRIDE a Heavenly Marriage with the Bolshoi Opera at Lincoln Center Festival

BWW Reviews: THE TSAR'S BRIDE a Heavenly Marriage with the Bolshoi Opera at Lincoln Center Festival

It's easy for opera-lovers to complain about the homogenization of casting at the world's great houses-particularly when there's only a small handful of Annas, Jonases, Juan Diegos, Cecilias, etc., that everybody wants to hear. So it was a treat to hear the visiting Bolshoi's concert performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's THE TSAR'S BRIDE last weekend at Lincoln Center Festival--filled with wonderful solo voices almost completely unknown to New York audiences, along with the stalwart Bolshoi chorus (under Valery Borisov).

The opera itself, of course, is not exactly of LA BOHEME stature in this country, though it remains at the top of the hit parade in Russia. How to explain it? The story's no more preposterous than most of those in our usual repertoire and there are lots of standard elements: an elisir d'amore (as well as a death potion), and even a mad scene. Briefly, here's what happens: soprano loves tenor, baritone has one-sided love for soprano and jilts mezzo, baritone gets love potion for soprano, which mezzo switches for a poison brew, and Ivan the Terrible (who doesn't appear) screws the pooch by choosing the soprano as his bride. Needless to say, nobody lives happily ever after, particularly the bride, who dies from the poison.

My assumption is that the language--Russian--must be the sticking point, both finding the right singers to handle the text and getting audiences to accept something that's a little different to the ears. Otherwise, it has everything else, particularly the musical showpieces that get audiences to their feet. And in this performance conducted by the great Russian maestro Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, the opera moved along smoothly, excitingly and even thrillingly.

We knew we were in for something special from the Bolshoi Orchestra roaring rendition of the familiar overture-perhaps the best-known part of the score to broad audiences--and the opening aria for Gryaznoy, a member of the secret police and one of the opera's villains, sung powerfully by baritone Elchin Azizov.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.