Robert Tanitch reviews Prince Igor at London Coliseum.
Alexander Borodin worked on Prince Igor for 18 years. He never finished it. It was completed after his death by his friends, Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, and premiered in St Petersburg in 1890 with great success.
It is very rarely performed in the UK. You may have had the misfortune to see Kismet, the awful kitschy Broadway musical which borrows Borodin’s music wholesale, in a disastrous production at the Coliseum in 2007. So the opportunity to actually see Prince Igor performed by a Russian opera company is an opportunity most opera lovers will not want to miss.
Moscow’s Noya Opera, one of the youngest musical companies in Russia, was founded in 1991. Yuri Alexandrov’s production, conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig, is part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014.
However, given the present political circumstances, it might not seem to be quite the best moment for the Russians to be staging an opera which records an unsuccessful campaign in the 12th century against the Polovtsky which ended in the crushing defeat of the Russian army.
Alexandrov says he has emphasised the spiritual aspect of the story rather than the heroic one. I doubt very much if audiences will be very interested in the story. They will come for the magnificent solos and choruses. The cast is headed by Sergey Artamonov as Igor, Elena Popovskaya as his idealised wife and Vladimir Kudashev as Khan Konchak. The final moments have great dignity.
Sadly, the production is so dreadfully old-fashioned and so very badly staged, designed and lit as to be completely distracting. I cannot remember when I last saw so much bad acting in one place. Particularly sad, especially if you have seen Fokine’s ballet, is that the famous Polovtsian Dances (thrilling to the ears) are choreographically so uninteresting.