June may already be “bustin’ out all over” eight times a week on Broadway with Tony-nominated Renée Fleming but at “Trove Thursday” it’s May Night, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1880 comic opera, in a recent broadcast from Moscow led by pianist-conductor Mikhail Pletnev.
May Night (Majskaja noch) was Rimsky’s third opera and is based on a story by Nikolai Gogol which revolves around lovers thwarted by parental disapproval who eventually are reunited after intrigues involving village superstitions including an encounter with the neighborhood water nymph or rusalka (not related to Dvorak’s).
The composer’s later Christmas Eve too is drawn from Gogol’s stories Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, as is Mussorgsky’s The Fair at Sorochyntsi.
Given the rustic Ukrainian subject matter it’s not surprising that Rimsky used folk tunes in composing both this opera and its immediate successor The Snow Maiden which recently revived by the Manhattan School of Music. May Night, though in three acts, is a relatively short work lasting around 100 minutes.
Handsome Russian tenor Sergey Romanovsky is a standout in the Rimsky cast as the young hero Levko. He made a noteworthy debut last year at Covent Garden as Alfredo in La Traviata and was Lise Davidsen’s Giasone in last fall’s Medea at the Wexford Festival.
Although he recently sang Don Carlo in Lyon, his specialty appears to be Rossini: he opens as Rodrigo in La Donna del Lago in Liège on Saturday night conducted by Michele Mariotti and directed by Damiano Michieletto.
Romanovsky will then co-star this summer with Pretty Yende and Juan Diego Florez in Ricciardo e Zoraide at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro where he appeared last summer as Néoclès in Le Siège de Corinthe. He seems to have not yet appeared in the US.
Several year ago Romanovsky made an eye-opening appearance in Rigoletto at the Bolshoi performing a rare uncut performance of the Duke’s cabaletta. Rising star indeed!
The addictive if not always reliable prognosticator Future Met Wiki once listed a Dmitri Tcherniakov production of The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh but it has disappeared, suggesting the Met’s Rimsky draught will continue.
It’s been over 70 years since Le Coq d’Or (in English, usually with Patrice Munsel) was performed there, an opera which had its first US performance in French conducted by Pierre Monteux at the Met in 1918 on a double bill with Cavalleria Rusticana!
I was surprised to learn that two other Rimsky operas had also once been in the Met’s repertoire although neither approached the 68 performances of Coq.
Artur Bodansky led The Snow Maiden with Lucrezia Bori in 1922, then Tullio Serafin conducted Sadko starring future General Manager Edward Johnson in 1930—both US premieres and both in French—the former lasting just 10 performances, the latter hanging on for 20.
Of course Rimsky’s biggest presence at the Met was his arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov often used there until the late 1950s.
While Rimsky’s works remain essential staples in Russian opera houses, they are still relative rarities in the rest of the world although Le Coq d’Or turns up more often than the others. After his acclaimed productions of TheTsar’s Bride, The Snow Maiden and Kitezh, Tcherniakov tackles Tsar Sultan next season at La Monnaie in Brussels.
The immersive festival at this summer’s Bard Summerscape will be Rimsky-Korsakov and his World which will feature concert performances of Mozart and Salieri on August 18 and The Tsar’s Bride the following day.
Rimsky-Korsakov: May Night (Majskaja noch)
Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow
Oksana Volkova — Hanna
Alexandra Saulskaya-Shulyatieva — Golova’s sister-in-law
Angelina Niukitchenko — Pannochka
Sergey Romanovsky — Levko
Gennady Bezzubenkov — Golova
Anatoli Loshak — Kalenik
Moscow Conservatory Chamber Chorus
Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev — conductor
May Night can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.
Photo: Natalia Muzhetskaya