BWW Review: THE GOLDEN COCKEREL at Santa Fe Opera
THE GOLDEN COCKEREL was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera. He wrote it in 1905 as a satire on the Russian government of the time. As with many political satires, the libretto that Vladimir Belsky based on Pushkin's poem THE TALE OF THE GOLDEN COCKEREL can still make some points over one hundred years later.
. Scenic and Costume Designer Gary McCann's setting lifted the left half of the stage into what a skateboarder would call a "half pipe." That "half pipe" was the background for Driscoll Otto's multiplicity of fascinating projections. For Acts Two and Three, McCann added quasi-circular metal ribs upstage on the right side.
McCann allowed his costumes to set the time and place as Tsarist Russia. Each costume and headdress was masterfully designed and finely detailed with the muted colors and intricate patterns of the ancien regime. Paul Hackenmueller's artfully crafted lighting design enhanced the beauty of the colors.
The Queen of Shemakha wore several layers of chiffon skirts. She discarded them little by little to reveal a jeweled bra and a bikini with ankle length drapes front and back. Tsar Dodon sat on an enormous throne wearing a fat suit covered with red underwear. Over that, he occasionally donned a cape or military dress but no one in the audience could forget his red undergarment. The Cockerel was actually a projection, which allowed the director to endow it with human characteristics but also make it move at warp speed. As the Astrologer told us at the beginning, this was a imaginative fairy tale with a moral.
Tsar Dodon preferred to rule from his bed and he cared little about his subjects. His sons were brainless as well as profligate. After the Astrologer had given Dodon a Golden Cockerel that would warn him of danger, the Tsar promised to give the Astrologer whatever he asked for. Dodon and his sons then went off to battle invading neighbors.
In Act Two, Dodon finds his sons dead, but the beautiful Queen of Shemakha soon arrived to soothe his troubled soul. Most of this act belonged to the Queen and she sang the only well known aria from this opera, "The Hymn to the Sun." It came very soon after she first appeared onstage and soprano Venera Gimadieva did not deliver it with total security. The tempo was slow and this lovely aria lacked the brilliant sparkle I have come to expect from it. Gimadieva was spectacularly good in the rest of the opera, however, as she sang with clear, accurate, and silver-toned coloratura. Visually, she was the lover most men dream of, alluring and inviting.
Having conspired with the Astrologer and his Cockerel, the Queen easily succeeded in seducing the Tsar. Because Dodon refused to give the Astrologer his desire, the Cockerel killed him. Thus, the Queen gained new territory and, in the Epilogue, the Astrologer reminds us that his fable has a moral.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera