A jewel set in Surrey, Grange Park Opera house was the scene for Rimsky-Korsakov’s drama.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Maid of Pskov was re-named to suit most people’s familiarity with the despot who was Tsar of Russia during the 16th century, but the evening as a whole is more concerned with the actual ‘maid’ of the original title, here featuring in the Prologue which tells the story of her paternity and childhood. That prologue is a touch over-long, allowing a bit too much emoting, but it features at least one notable performance, that of Liubov Sokolova as Olga’s nurse Vlasyevna.
The casting is variable, with Clive Bayley once more proving that when it comes to presenting a gruff manner concealing a heart of flint, he has no equal; his assumption of Ivan, whose real nickname was ‘formidable’ rather than ‘terrible,’ recalled his definitive Philip of Spain in its complexity, and his singing on this occasion was superbly expressive. Evelina Dobracheva and Carl Tanner were both a bit on the mature side for the young lovers, and both did plenty of parking ‘n barking although they were vocally sound at the crucial top of their lines.
David Shipley was in sovereign voice as Prince Tokmakov, who adopts the baby Olga as his own and later proves a noble contrast to Tucha, the leader of the rebellion and Olga’s lover. The man designated as Olga’s future husband, Boyar Matuta, is brilliantly characterized by the superb singing actor Adrian Thompson, whose performances in a whole series of small roles have so often compensated for less than glorious assumptions elsewhere onstage. Amy Sedgwick was a calm presence as Olga’s aunt, and Rosie Rowell provided some much-needed lightness.
“…Clive Bayley once more proving that when it comes to presenting a gruff manner concealing a heart of flint, he has no equal…”
Vocally, the honours must be shared between Clive Bayley and the very fine Chorus, each singer rightly meriting an individual biography in the programme; whether depicting fearful citizens or determined fighters, this was a remarkable choral performance. The newly named Gascoigne Orchestra – formerly at Garsington – played superbly for Mikhail Tatarnikov, a name new to us but one which we’ll surely hear again.
David Pountney’s production, with evocative designs by Francis O’Connor and atmospheric lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, was as spectacular and engaging as you would expect. The use of the bells so often heard in the music as a recurring image, the harsh bare timbered walls offset by the pastel shades of the women’s dresses, and the intensity of the interactions between the characters were all brilliantly done. Even though the Prologue does drag on a little, the production of the opera makes up for it with playing and singing of a very high calibre.
Further details of this production can be found here.