Saturday, March 24, 2018

A few words about CitiOpera's dashing rehearsal of Rimsky-Korsakov's Kashchey the Immortal

Here’s a combination of rarities. In opera, the tenor rarely scores the title role but he does so here in Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s one act opera, Kashchey the Immortal, which premiered in Moscow in 1902. Even rarer is he the villain but, in this story based on a Russian fairy tale, that he is. It’s also a rarely performed work, only receiving its U.K. premiere in 1994 and it’s U.S. premiere earlier this year. Shortly, its first Australian outing takes the stage at Melbourne Recital Hall, on Sunday, in a concert performance presented by small local company CitiOpera - and its going to whip up a dark and shadowy evening, with a little radiance to finish. That’s the forecast after attending last night’s penultimate rehearsal at Victorian College of the Arts. Unfortunately, I won’t be in Melbourne on Sunday.

Kashchey is an evil so and so who holds the princess Tsarevna in captivity and whose immortality is safeguarded unless his cold-hearted daughter Kascheyevna sheds a tear. Tsarevna pines for her prince, Ivan-Korolevich, who she sees in a magic mirror with Kascheyevna who happens to fall in love with him. When Tsarevna comes face to face with Kascheyevna, she is moved by her admission of first love, kisses her and guess what? Tears. A chorus of ‘invisible voices’ announce Kashchey’s death and Kascheyevna turns into a willow, leaving prince and princess together again. Rimsky-Korsakov 

Seated from my perspective, CitiOpera's Kashchey the Immortal
CitiOpera Music Director Alan Cook conducted, the tempi providing engaging dramatic pace and the large 40-plus CitiOpera Orchestra played in great form. From where I was seated in a corner of a large VCA rehearsal room, the ‘piano’ string playing lost definition and the ‘forte’ brass overwhelmed but Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush orchestral sound was on show - the swells of turbulence, glassy trepidation, sinewy warmth and glory of optimism - music you can hear that provided later generations with fruit.

Sung in Russian, as Kashchey, Melbourne tenor Michael Lapiña powered over the orchestra magnificently, threatening of voice and comfortably delivering potency across a large range in a highly attractive and visceral performance. 

Russian-Australian mezzo-soprano Viktoria Bolonina - my first encounter with this promising and exciting young artist - flooded the rehearsal with a stunning display of grand vocal stature and physical immersion in her part as Kascheyevna. Assigned a thrilling set of notes to interpret, the luscious voiced Bolonina seductively deployed them with relaxed assurance, agility and purpose.

Petite Europe-based Australian soprano Christiana Aloneftis floated the voice with seemingly cautious delicacy, the top range clear and projecting strongly. Not so the lower areas which sank below the orchestra and out of earshot but Sunday will no doubt show the goods kept in reserve.

Versatile Melbourne baritone Raphael Wong brought warmth and vigour to his role as Ivan-Korolevich, with flesh on the notes and expressivity to colour it. And taking the bass role as Kashchey’s Storm Knight, Burya Bogatyr, Melbourne-based Russian bass, Alex Pokryshevsky surged authoritatively with gusto in deep earthy territory to impress. 

A beautiful harp solo greets a small chorus in the first scene and these ‘invisible voices’ responded with a riding rhythmical kick, later launching into the final majestic musical setting with combined firmness. 

There’s a treat in stall for Sunday and praise to CitiOpera for preparing this richly jewelled rarity for Melbourne audiences.

Kashchey the Immortal
Penultimate rehearsal:
Victorian College of the Arts
16th March, 2018

Scheduled public performance:
Melbourne Recital Hall
Sunday, 18th March, 2018

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