“Trove Thursday” offers a belated 55th birthday nod to Dmitri Hvorostovsky with a blazing live performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsarskaya nevesta (The Tsar’s Bride) wherein his bad-boy oprichnik dumps then murders mistress Olga Borodina while pursuing Anna Netrebko who goes insane! 

When I scheduled this weeks ago, I didn’t know it would fall near the Russian baritone’s birthday (nor the recent “fake news” scare). Yet it was clearly meant to be: Sunday on the final night of the New York Film Festival during a screening of Sergei Loznitsa’s devastating A Gentle Creature a character related an anecdote about a role he had sung: Gryaznoy in The Tsar’s Bride!

Rimsky’s operas don’t get done very often in the US; the Met hasn’t performed one since Le Coq d’Or (mounted this summer in Santa Fe) in 1945 although a future production of The Invisible City of Kitezh is rumored. I do remember a rough-and-tumble Mlada when the Bolshoi returned to the Met in 1991. Prima donna Makvala Kasrashvili vied with prima ballerina Nina Ananiashvili for primacy that evening. Galina Gorchakova in her sadly brief prime shone as Fevroniya in the Mariinsky’s somewhat impenetrable Kitezh at BAM in 1995 but I haven’t seen one on stage since then.

His works are not entirely ignored in New York however as just this past May there was a Coq d’Or while next spring brings The Snow Maiden to Manhattan School of Music. Bard Summerscape 2018 promises “Rimsky-Korsakov and his World” as its focus festival with likely an opera or two on display.

Opera Orchestra of New York performed Tsar’s Bride with Borodina in 1995 and again in 2008. I remember the former co-starring Nuccia Focile and Sergei Leiferkus as stirring and involving but I fled the latter at intermission dismayed by the soprano who would dominate the second half. In both Borodina’s sumptuous mezzo proved enthralling, one of her generation’s most beautiful voices.

While her delightful Paulina/Daphnis helped enliven a limp and chilly Pikovaya Dama with Gorchakova, Placido Domingo and an oddly miscast Elisabeth Söderström, her smoldering Marfa in Khovanshchina was a highlight of one of the finest Met evenings in recent memory. According to Operabase, she sings little opera outside of St. Petersburg these days but lucky Texans can hear her classic Dalila open the Dallas Opera tomorrow night.

When I first thought about including this opera, I remembered that originally we should have been hearing Netrebko’s Norma this week in New York; instead she sang last night in Melbourne, Australia as part of an extensive concert tour with her husband Yusif Eyvazov. The Met can’t complain that she has ignored it, but the San Francisco Opera where she started her US career just might.

The Marfa from 2000 captured here was her seventh role in San Francisco where she made her debut as Ludmila in Glinka’s opera in 1995, a full seven years before she joined the Met. The California company also heard her only US appearances as Susanna, Ilia and Nanetta and what will probably be her only US Traviatas. Those Violettas in 2009 also served as her last performances at the War Memorial Opera House to date. Those not familiar with early Netrebko may be astonished listening to her Marfa at how much her voice has changed over the past 17 years.

Hvorostovsky was, of course. Andrei to Netrebko’s Natasha in that memorable 2002 War and Peace in which she made her Met debut. Other than his signature Tchaikovsky roles, his appearances in Russian opera in the US have been relatively rare making this SF Gryaznoy a special treat. He and Borodina appear together in the Philips recording of Tsar’s Bride under Gergiev but its Marfa is Marina Shaguch.

Many thanks to Dawn Fatale who generously provided “Trove Thursday” with this recording.

Rimsky-Korsakov: Tsarskaya nevesta (The Tsar’s Bride)
San Francisco Opera
16 September 2000
In-house recording

Anna Netrebko — Marfa
Olga Borodina – Lyubasha
Irina Bogacheva — Domna
Elena Bocharova – Dunyasha
Jay Hunter Morris — Lykov
Dmitri Hvorostovsky — Gryaznoy
Kevin J. Langan — Sobakin
Nikolai Gassiev — Bomelius
Vladimir Ognovenko — Malyuta / Skuratov

Neeme Järvi — conductor

This week’s Russian melodrama as well as last week’s Handel-trio can each be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the posting’s audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Nearly 100 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes (recently updated) or via any RSS reader.

Photo: Pavel Vaan & Leonid Semenyuk