Sunday, October 26, 2008

REVIEW: LPO performs Tchaikovsky’s ‘Iolanta’.

Well, I went to my first orchestra performance in London, and I started myself off with a goodie. The London Philharmonic grabbed Tchaikovsky’s final opera by the horns, and rode that bull around the arena. Led by the LPO’s resident conductor, Vladimir Jurowski and joined by a spectacular vocal ensemble with 11 soloists and the Moscow Conservatory Chamber Choir as the chorus. The soloists were Tatiana Monogarova, Sergei Aleksashkin, Sergej Larin, Vyacheslav Pochapsky, Rodion Pogossov, Robin Tritschler, Maxim Mikhailov, Anne Collins, Olga Peretyatko and Julie Pasturaud.

Iolanta was first performed the year before Tchaikovsky’s death and he apparently reckoned that it was nowhere near as strong as his early operas and thought that he was repeating himself as a composer. 

Bad Tchaikovsky, DON’T doubt yourself. 

This was a concert performance of the staged opera.

It’s a rather touching story of a girl who was born blind, but her father sought to keep her ignorant of this fact, by letting noone tell her. He was hoping this would lead to her having a better life, buuuuut she ends up just sitting around with the same friends entertaining her all the time. She is betrothed to Robert, who doesn’t know about her being blind either. Then Robert and his buddy Vaudémont show up, unexpected. Robert leaves, but Vaudémont stays and figures out that Iolanta is blind and had no clue, and he subsequently falls in love with her.

Now it turns out that the local doc has a way to fix Iolanta’s blindness, but Vaudémont claims that he will love her no matter what. Iolanta’s father threatens to execute Vaudémont if the treatment fails. Then Robert arrives back and confesses that he loves another. Iolanta’s father gives his blessing for her and Vaudémont. The couple are happy, and then it turns out the treatment was a success – Iolanta can see!

It was a solid performance with ridiculous amounts of expression. Jurowski really works the orchestra, and they work with him. The London Philharmonic is a very tight ensemble with great dynamic range. Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic flourishes were treated with due skill and panache and the fleshy harmonies were rich and rang throughout the Royal Festival Hall.

Tatiana Monogarova was quite stunning as the character of Iolanta. She captured that lovely innocence of being completely unaware of the visual world surrounding her. Backing up to my cast notes, though I stated that Sergej Larin performed the part of Vaudémont, I’m going to take a punt and say that it wasn’t him. Why? The guy on stage was the only singer reading from music, so I’m lead to think that something happened towards the last minute and had to get someone to fill in. If they did, Mr. Replacement was EXCELLENT. If not, Mr. Larin should learn his part! At times it distracted from an otherwise stellar performance. That is my only criticism of the singer, and if it was an understudy, then that point is void.

The singers and orchestra had a wonderful synergy, which is important for Tchaikovsky’s music. You have the soaring and lyrical vocal parts, complimented by counterparts in the winds and strings. To make this work, strong ensemble skills are essential. I’m pleased to say that the LPO performance presented Tchaik in an extremely positive light.

My only other negative point was that the chorus was not strong enough towards the end (the finale), and I found they didn’t match the exuberance of the orchestra and the vocal soloists. Jurowski’s style exudes plenty of strength, but the choir was not as receptive to this as the others.

I was so pleased to see so many Russian singers performing this evening. I guess in Australia, we get used to our local artists trying to bash out a difficult language like Russian (I imagine that’s a particular toughie). As much as there is a lot of talent in Australian Opera, and you will not hear me bash them (too much), it’s incredibly refreshing to see a ‘native’ performance…well kind of. I guess that will be the norm’ from now on, though! Lucky me! Obviously, Jurowski himself is Russian, and I could tell he had a particular affinity for Tchaikovsky’s music.

Well, that was a very exciting and reassuring entrance into London’s classical scene and what I would imagine was a great start to the ‘Revealing Tchaikovsky’ series (it was one of the first concerts). I can’t wait to go to the next one tomorrow night!

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