Glinka: Ruslan And Lyudmila Box set
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This recording of Glinka's melodically marvellous but dramatically lacking fairy tale opera offers outstanding singing and conducting, a thoroughly idiomatic performance, and modern sound, all of which combine to make it the preferred edition. The only problem, and it's a minor one, is occasional intrusive noise from the house and stage--this is a live recording. For most listeners, the greater intensity of a live performance over a studio recording will overcome that objection. Anna Netrebko's Lyudmila is clear-voiced and winning; Vladimir Ognovienko has a typically back-of-the-throat Slavic production that is not a problem in this repertoire. Conductor Valery Gergiev offers one of his best performances in this series. --Sarah Bryan Miller
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Top Customer Reviews
What is the style of “Ruslan”?: The opera represents a genuinely new development in opera, a departure from tradition in the direction of Slavic folklore. But that doesn’t mean it is fully-formed. The short orchestral introduction sounds like ersatz Mendelssohn. More important in the opera are frequent numbers in the style of Italian opera, greatly reminiscent of early Verdi. Examples include Ludmilla’s bel canto ornamentation in the Act V Finale, the very conventional (but also very pretty) dances in Act III or the recitative-like elements in Finn’s Ballad (Act II). But Glinka also introduced colorful and exotic numbers that foreshadow later Slavic operas – it is these numbers, many of them very attractive and memorable, that must have impressed the Russian composers who followed Glinka. The Act IV setting in the evil magician Chernomoor’s palace provided Glinka with particular inspiration, in the dances, some of the most attractive Russian music I have heard, such as the “Lesginka” and the March. The “Persian Chorus” at the opening of Act III or Ruslan’s powerful Act II basso aria about the suffering that awaits in the future sound like classic, and high-quality, Russian opera numbers. So “Ruslan” is something of a smorgasborg, a transitional work, but one with real high points.
La Trebs: This 1995 recording finds star soprano Anna Netrebko, her career just beginning at the age of 24, in the title role of Ludmilla. It says something for my talent scouting that nothing about Netrebko’s performance would alert me to the fact that the next budding superstar of global opera was right there. She does a generally good but unexceptional job thoughout the opera, with what are surprisingly few numbers for a title role. That said, the difficult high-register Italianate coloratura numbers in the Act V finale, to which I referred earlier, are done very well showing that Netrebko had a strong technique in her upper range. But I’ll confess that if you asked what was the vocal highlight of the performance, I would point to basso Vladimir Ognovienko as Ruslan and his Act II double-aria, which after a shaky opening turns into a genuinely powerful tearjerker. Shows what I know!
Sound quality is OK – a bit muddy. I very much enjoyed listening to this “Ruslan” set and would characterize it as a successful but not exceptional effort.
The other roles may not be as distinctive, but are generally very good or at least agreeable. Vladimir Ognovienko has a full bass-baritone voice for Ruslan, and characterizes the role well even if the actual singing isn't always very distinctive. I was perhaps more taken with Gennadi Bezzubenkov's well sung Farlaf and (not the least) Larissa Diadkova's Ratmir. Galina Gorchakova's Gorislava is also generally brilliant, but some of the other roles, such as Yuri Marusin's Bayan, are a little flat and wearisome (but at least Marusin is intermittently very convincing).
Where this set really scores is with the orchestral playing, however. The overture is red-hot and exhilarating, though perhaps not as exuberant as some versions - Gergiev drives the music here and elsewhere with passion, spirit and momentum, but not always with a lot of fun. Still the attention to detail is admirable, and Gergiev and the Kirov orchestra (and chorus) are superb not only in the faster music, but also admirably sensitive and passionate in the more reflective movements - and we do indeed get lots of fairy tale charm. The sound quality is good (it is a live performance, however, although you rarely hear much intrusive noise). But don't let the small caveats mentioned in passing deter you; this set is probably the best around of this fascinating opera (I have not heard the Kondrashin version championed by some other reviewers, though) and a great success; strongly recommended.