It’s Christmas Eve Eve! The countdown continues as we open door 23.
We may be a day early with an opera entitled Christmas Eve but Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1895 creation just couldn’t be left out. In a year when many of us may be experiencing quieter Christmasses, the antidote is surely to indulge in a work that evokes the wonder and excitement of the occasion to the full.
In Rimsky-Korsakov’s hands, Gogol’s story of the blacksmith Vakula winning the fair Oksana after discovering he has the Devil in a sack appeals to all facets of the ear and heart. Orchestral introductions to Acts I and II evoke an image of the Ukranian village of Dikanka, and conjure up vivid senses of the night sky and the supernatural. There is an air of the familiar as Vakula’s mother sings a folk carol, and of the comical as Oksana’s Cossack father encounters Vakula instead of his mother and consequently has to plead in a deliberately non-threatening voice ‘I came by just to sing a little carol’. Mass choruses of ‘Merry Christmas’ and, in the Finale, ‘Christmas Eve’ evoke the magic of the season, and yet there is particularly beautiful orchestral writing in the strings and wind as Vakula and the Devil fly to St Petersburg.
If all that wasn’t enough, the emotion contained within Vakula’s Act II aria, in which he sings of how love has taken its toll, and Oksana’s own in Act IV, as she laments treating the smith so badly, create a somewhat deeper experience. We thought, however, we would treat you to the Christmas Eve Suite, which Rimsky-Korsakov arranged in 1903, and thus contains many of the opera’s highlights. This performance is by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi.