Sunday, March 2, 2014

Escaping from one's Self; Prince Igor Live-In-HD

Folk tales testify that our life flashes before our eyes as we teeter on the edge of death. In the Met's new production of Prince Igor it was not so much life as it was Act One.

Dimitri Tcherniakov and Gianandrea Noseda presented a revisionist Prince Igor in which filmed close-ups of Igor's bleeding face were projected across the stage in black and white to punctuate the first act and interpret the music as dream and fantasy.

The desire to connect the fragmentary tableaux that comprise the music actually written by Borodin is understandable, and both Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov contributed to the version of this opera we often hear. This production stripped away the music not written by Borodin, but added another interpretation in its place.

The Tcherniakov and Noseda conception was often fascinating. We were asked to understand the strange actions of the first act as the wish of a general who had just fallen on the battlefield. This allowed the ballet of Polovtsian dancers and the interaction with a kind and benevolent enemy, cast in a field of poppies, to assume an Oz-like meaning. The action represents what life as a prisoner would be like in fantasy. Since Borodin's music for Act One was set in an exotic style deliberately different from the rest of the opera, there was musical justification for this concept.

The triumphant music of the closing act is seldom convincing in other productions, but here it took on ironic shades as Igor was a portrayed as a living victim of war who was only a broken shell of the person he was when he departed.

An alternative ending was appended onto the score as Igor began the process of rebuilding (both himself and his city). The music that closed the opera was "The River Don Floods," written by Borodin for an opera-ballet called Mlada. Yes, this was music written by Borodin, but without any intention for being used in this opera. The greater reinterpretation of the grand ending had already successfully taken place in this production. This appended music became a layer of "help" similar to that given by Rimsky and Glazunov that the opera did not need. We were escaping from Igor's self, not Borodin's.

Host Eric Owens reminded us that this was the 75th transmission in the Live-in-HD series. The series has developed, and this was apparent during the outstanding camera work during Yaroslavna's lament in Act Three. The camera was kind to Oksana Dyka. The close-up of her expression gave insight into that critical emotional moment in this opera. The color of her singing and the sound of the clarinet that wove through the texture was powerful.

Mikhail Petrenko also gave a detailed account of Galitsky in aggressive and menacing vocal sound. He made this hateable character vivid. Ildar Abdrazakov was a constant presence as Igor. His acting focused the intensity and deep vulnerability of this elusive character. His singing was detailed with phrasings possible only for those with super-human breath support. The Met orchestra sounded great throughout, and the energy of their sound was a significant part of the narrative.

Prior to the opening of the Prologue a motto was projected: "To unleash a war is the surest way to escape from one's self." This production mused on the ways in which inner wars are as devastating as military wars.


  1. Interesting! It sounds like you feel they could have ended the opera sooner, without any added music. Is that the case? I've always said most operas should be shorter... Sounds like a great production!

  2. Yes, in many ways the production was of interest and created new ways of thinking about the plot and the music. I think that if the opera ended without the attachment that it would have been even more powerful.


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