Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, performed at the Israel Opera by the Kolobov Novaya Opera of Moscow, was a Grand Spectacle.

This is a work of conflicting messages. On the one hand, it is supposed to glorify the heroism of the Russian prince, although he is defeated and returns from captivity as an escapee. On the other hand, it celebrates the largeheartedness of the barbarous Polovtsian ruler. This opera, in fact, is a belated offspring of the then-current European fashion of the Noble Savage, represented earlier also, among others, by Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio and, later, by Bizet’s Carmen.

Directed by Yuri Alexandrov, everything in this performance happens on a large scale, and is designed to stun. Crowd scenes were densely populated, fairly well choreographed, and occasionally amusing. There were many theatrically outstretched arms, in the old-fashioned West-European style. The smoke (or was it steam?), a gimmick current among misguided European directors a decade ago, served no other purpose than obstructing the view and making the audience cough. The opera’s eagerly expected piece de resistance, the well-known Polovtsian Dances that are the high point of a rather marginal plot, were quite resourcefully designed and sweepingly performed.

Among the singers, Vladimir Kudashev, as Khan Konchak, was the outstanding personality. Dark and powerful, his voice epitomized the ideal sonorous Russian bass. In the role of Galich, Alexander Kisselev’s bass struck a more light-hearted and flexible note, providing comic relief when there was not yet anything to be relieved of.

In the title role, Andjey Beletsky’s high-timbred and somewhat pale baritone sounded more lyrical than heroic. As Yaroslavna, his wife, Elena Popovskaya’s bright, clear and metallic soprano, lacking feminine softness and emotional nuance, sounded authoritative, making one understand why Igor wanted to go to war at all cost and against all odds.

His son, Vladimir, represented by Alexander Bogdanov, displayed an appealing lyric tenor that made him a convincing lover. His beloved, though, mezzo-soprano Tatyana Tabachuk’s Konchakovna, was less seductive by her vocal qualities than by suggestively spreading out on the floor in her love scene with Vladimir, making it seem as though not much difference exists between 12th-century Central Asia and the 21st-century West in this respect, except for her too-unsteady voice.

The Kolobov Opera Choir, well-rehearsed and with perfect intonation, sounded reminiscent of Russian- Orthodox church choirs.

Conducted by Jan Latham- Koenig, the Kolobov Opera Orchestra poignantly emphasized the dramatic events, the opera’s many changing emotional climates, and competently contributed the sweeping dance rhythms.

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