Magazine article The Spectator

Parental Indulgence

Magazine article The Spectator

Parental Indulgence

Article excerpt


Royal Opera


English Touring Opera, Cambridge s emele Royal Academy of Music

The week's operatic rarity was Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki, inaccurately translated as The Tsarina's Slippers. It is an adaptation of the Gogol story 'Christmas Eve', and is slightly more familiar in Rimsky-Korsakov's version, which was mounted in a spirited production at ENO in 1988. Though I never thought I'd say so, the Rimsky score turns out to be considerably more engaging, certainly more suited to his temperament, and his flair for orchestral colour. Tchaikovsky was devoted to his own opera, which had a mild success as Vakula the Smith, and which he subjected to extensive revision. Some ardent Tchaikovskians, of whom it appears Francesca Zambello, director of this production, is one, also make high claims for the piece, even alleging that it is among the composer's finest works, if not the finest of all. It seems to me an extraordinarily feeble affair, lacking all of the qualities for which we adore Tchaikovsky, and not revealing any that we didn't know about. The claim, repeated several times in the programme, that it shows a gift for comedy was the only thing that made me smile all evening. If there were a comic centre, it would be the scene in which the witch Solokha gets one importunate lover after another to hide in a sack - the Royal Opera seems to be staging a season with this as the theme (i. e. , the other one, L'heure espagnole). In fact, it is sadly laboured, despite the spirited efforts of Larissa Diadkova, here in her element. The banter that takes up much of the first two acts is set to music of almost embarrassing heavyfootedness, and still more painful, contains not a single memorable melody. And even the one area where one can almost always rely on Tchaikovsky's professionalism, the orchestration, is barren of interest. One feels that his fondness for the score was that of a parent for his disabled child.

No need, however, to feel that it was shortchanged. Most of the cast are Russian, and so is the conductor, Alexander Polianichko.

As soon as the leaden overture began, the sound was right, and in the few passages where Tchaikovsky indulges in his capacity for overwrought string writing, or delicate wind chattering, we might easily have been listening to the Bolshoi orchestra. The central figure, a kind of Russian Nemorino, the smith who is hopelessly, helplessly in love with the village glamour girl Oxana, is finely taken by Vsevolod Grivnov - how one longed for him to be singing Lensky! …

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