RIMSKY-KORSAKOV The Golden Cockerel (Altinoglu)
Based on Pushkin’s tale, Rimsky-Korsakov composed his final opera The Golden Cockerel in 1906 07 (it was premiered posthumously) as a thinly veiled parody of Nicholas II’s humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. Director Laurent Pelly may have a natural flair for comedy, such as the slapstick chasing of the cockerel by the Tsar’s two sons, but his production for La Monnaie sadly has limited satirical bite. It is in marked contrast to Dmitri Bertman’s razor-sharp depiction of the bumbling Tsar Dodon as a Boris Yeltsin-type figure in Deutsche Oper am Rhein’s excellent staging which I enjoyed in Düsseldorf.
However, there’s still much to enjoy in Pelly’s staging and Alain Altinoglu, making his debut as La Monnaie’s new music director, romps through Rimsky’s score with glee. Pavlo Hunka’s Tsar Dodon rules in his pyjamas from a huge bed perched on top of a slag heap. His ridiculous sons are identical twins, with towering blond quiffs, and Polkan tows Dodon off to battle mounted on an armoured wooden horse. In Act 2, the Queen of Shemakha appears in glittering silver gown with spiky headdress adornment that gives her an alien appearance. At their wedding, they are wheeled in on their double bed atop an armoured tank which sports Polkan’s head as a trophy. The Golden Cockerel itself is fabulously plumed, performed by a dancer while Sheva Tehoval sings the role with admirable precision out of camera shot. The wizened Astrologer rises from his death bed to draw the curtain and deliver the pithy epilogue.
Among the performers, Venera Gimadieva shines as the Queen of Shemakha, seductively wrapping herself like a tendril around the chromatic lines of her Hymn to the Sun. Hunka blusters well as the hapless Dodon and Agnes Zwierko is a redoubtable Amelfa. Alexander Kravets hasn’t really got the high notes for the Astrologer without resorting to falsetto, but it’s a tiny deficit in an otherwise fine cast.
Anna Matison’s Mariinsky staging is even more fairy tale-orientated than satirical, with plenty of CGI special effects (and a few weird camera angles). The Shemakha is the standout in that cast too – Aida Garifullina, seductive and bell-like – while the Astrologer is likewise the vocal fly in the ointment. Fans of Rimsky’s operas will naturally need both.