Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

The Metropolitan Opera: Borodin's Prince Igor

Borodin's Prince Igor - A scene from Act I

Long ago in University, I took a Russian history course as Russia was a dominant country then, engaged in a prolonged " cold war" with the U.S. After watching the new production of Borodin's Prince Igor, the Metropolitan Opera's first staging of the composer's single opera in 100 years, I think I deserve two more credits from Niagara Square's Odeon Cineplex. The live performance in New York City started at 12 noon, and here in Niagara, my watch indicated 4.30 p.m. on the way out to the parking lot!

Despite the duration and three acts, I can provide a précis as follows: Act I - War is glorious and a "way to lose oneself." If you lose the war as well as yourself, it leads to fantasies in a poppy field, which famed Canadian surgeon John McCrae might appreciate. Act II - When Prince Igor is away at war, others will play, and it's not easy being Igor's wife. Act III - When you arrive home to ruin, you rebuild one piece of wood at a time. That's essentially the plot with much singing in between. This opera would be appropriate viewing for the Russian Olympic hockey team and its multi-millionaire stars such as Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, all of whom flamed out in Sochi just as Igor succumbs to the pesky, pugnacious Polovtsians. (Try saying that three times.) In between acts, we are privy to interviews with the principals, and watch the huge sets being marshalled behind the curtain, none of which is available to fans in New York who paid $200 and more for tickets while in Niagara it's a mere $25!

Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov and the Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda talk (with an interpreter) about this epic tale of war and deliverance in 12th-century Russia, and we learn that the Met's terrific chorus totals 120 singers. In fact, during the bows at the end, along with the chorus and a wonderful corps de ballet, adding the principals leaves little room on the massive Met stage.

The brilliant chorus begins the opera and is showcased throughout, particularly in the Polovtsian Dances, which sound like, yes indeed -
" Stranger in Paradise" from the Broadway musical Kismet. The orchestra and chorus were superb throughout.

We learn that Noseda was flown in from Pittsburgh where he conducted the night before and that he is to be flown immediately back for a performance tonight after this multi-hour afternoon warm-up! Quite a hectic schedule for this maestro!

Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov plays Prince Igor and like a brooding Hamlet, spends most of the opera in a melancholy funk after his initial euphoria à la George W. Bush on the glory of war.

Ildar Abdrazakov as Prince Igor Svyatoslavich

In her Met debut, Ukrainian soprano Oksana Dyka convincingly plays Igor's wife, Yaroslavna, and she carries the day back home while Igor marks time, captured and imprisoned after his Putivl army is crushed.

Anita Rachvelishvili, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Dmitri Tcherniakov, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Gianandrea Noseda, photo by Wikipedia Commons   Ildar Abdrazakov as Prince Igor Svyatoslavich    Ildar Abdrazakov as Prince Igor Svyatoslavich in Borodins Prince Igor    Sergey Semishkur, photo by Wikimedia Commons

Russian tenor Sergey Semishkur, also debuting, faultlessly plays their son Vladimir, and Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili plays a lusty, full-sized Konchakovna, daughter of Khan Konchak, Igor's deadly foe on the battlefield.

During the interviews, we learn that Borodin was actually a chemist, and that he composed only when he had time, working on Prince Igor for 18 years, before leaving it unfinished, dying of a heart attack at age 53. Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov finished the opera for him.

Ildar Abdrazakov, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Mikhail Petrenko as Prince Galitsky and Oksana Dyka as Yaroslavna   Oksana Dyka, photo by Wikimedia Commons   Prince Igor, photo by Wikimedia Commons    Prince Igor, photo by Wikimedia Commons    Stefan Kocan, photo by Wikipedia Commons

For me, Act I dragged despite the poppy scene with 14,000 red poppies covering the stage, interspersed with fantasies and contrasted by black and white pictures of soldiers' faces covered in blood which seemed to go on for far too long. We get it! We get it! Also, three dozen dancers - bare-chested men and women in light dresses dance to the choreography of Itzik Galili, but they are often hidden behind the ubiquitous poppies. At the beginning, while Igor raves about war, there is a solar eclipse, and people beg him not to go. It reminds one of Calpurnia pleading for Julius Caesar not to go to the forum on the Ides of March. We know it's not going to go well.

Act II in Putivl is dominated by the conflict between Igor's wife, Yaroslavna and brother-in-law Galitsky played by Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko who embodies the phrase, "Let the good times roll!" Stealing village women at pleasure and swilling vodka with his comrades, he would assume Igor's role and run the city state that is until he feels something deadly sharp inflicted during a mob scene. Petrenko is terrific as the licentious Galitsky and might have studied Toronto mayor Rob Ford for his role.

Act III is quick, geared to the devastation of the city and the need to rebuild both Russian structures and spirit.

  • Read The Story Synopsis

    Ildar Abdrazakov as Prince Igor Svyatoslavich

    Konchakovna's Cavatina (Anita Rachvelishvili)

    Yaroslavna's Arioso (Oksana Dyka)

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