STRAUSS: Elektra
Birgit Nilsson (Elektra); Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis); Mignon Dunn (Klytämnestra); Robert Nagy (Aegisth); Donald McIntyre (Orest); Metropolitan Opera Orch/James Levine
DGG DVD VIDEO B0007475 TT: 107 min + 51 extras

Vladimir Galusin (Sadko); Valentine Tsidipova (Volkhova); Marianna Tarassova (Lyubava); Sergei Aleksashkin (The Sea King); Bulat Minjelkiev & Alexander Gergalov (Varangian Merchants); Gegam Grigorian (The Indian Merchant); Larissa Diadkova (Mezhata); Evgeni Boitsov (Forma Nazarich); Gennadi Bezzubenkov (Luka Zinovich); Vladimir Ognovienko (Duda); Nikolai Gassiev (Sopel); Nikolai Putilin (Old Pilgrim); Kirov Chorus, Ballet and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS DVD VIDEO B0006619 TT: 174 min.

Oleg Kulko (Prince Yaromir); Nina Ananiashvili (Princess Mlada); Maria Gavrilova (Princess Voislava); Gleb Nikolsky (Prince Mstivoy); Galina Borisova (Morena); Kirill Nikittin (Soul of Yaromir); Yulia Malkhassiants (Witch); Bolshoi Opera Chorus and Orch/Alexander Lazarev, cond.
KULTUR DVD VIDEO D2280 TT: 135 min.

This performance of Elektra was issued several years ago by Pioneer Classics and reviewed on this site (REVIEW). DGG's new issue contains important information about circumstances of the performance, as well as other features of interest. After singing in Siegfried at the Met April 2, 1975, Nilsson left the U.S. because of tax problems which eventually were worked out by an opera-loving tax lawyer making it possible for her to return in a gala concert at the Met conducted by James Levine in November 1979. This was followed by four performances of Elektra, a new production of the opera mounted for Nilsson and premiered February 16 , 1980, seen on this DVD. Nilsson was 61 at the time and still remarkable in every way (see the other review for more detailed comments). Rysanek, in one of her last appearances as Chrysothemis, had a temperature of 102, and contemplated canceling midway through the performance, but one would never suspect this from her singing. It is a pleasure to see her in one of her most famous interpretations. The "bonus" is memorable: all 17 minutes of curtain calls, Isolde's narration and curse from Tristan and a Swedish folk song from the 1979 gala concert, Nilsson's tribute to James Levine from the conductor's 25th Anniversary concert, and two audio interviews, from 1963 and 1993. A superb release!

Both of the Rimsky-Korsakov DVDs offer magnificent performances of operas that should be presented more often. Sadko, the composer's seventh opera, was premiered in 1897, and is considered to be the composer's greatest opera. Seven tableaux offer elaborate scenes from an epic, a fantastically beautiful creation relating the adventures of Sadko, seafaring minstrel from Novgorod. Rimsky-Korsakov already had composed a symphonic poem on the subject, and decided to expand it into an opera in which Sadko falls in love with the beautiful Princess Volkhova, leaves his wife Lyubava under the spell of the magic princess, and finally returns to his faithful spouse after a series of colorful adventures. The score is exquisite, a constant demonstration of Rimsky-Korakov's mastery of orchestration.The magnificent sets are by Viacheslav Okunev. Valery Gergiev is obviously loves this music, and the entire cast is wonderful, particularly Valentina Tsidipova as Volkhova who sings this demanding coloratura role to perfection. Picture quality is excellent, sonics totally satisfying. This same performance was issued on Philips CDs a dozen years ago which has been deleted—but now, thanks to ArkivMusic, available in their reissue series. However, a major part of enjoyment of this opera is visual and this superb DVD is the ideal way to experience it.

Mlada, Rimsky-Kosakov's fourth opera, dates from 1882. This is a "Fantasy Opera-Ballet" in four acts, about a wicked princess (Voislava) who murders her rival (Mlada) on the eve of her wedding to Prince Yaromir hoping to win him for herself. Look upon it as being more of a ballet with some elements of opera. This rather simple story is told via a a series of arias, massed scenes, and dances, with many instrumental solos. Wagner's Ring had just been presented in St. Petersburg and there's no doubt that Rimsky-Korsakov was influenced by it. This colorful production by Boris Pokrovsky has choreography by Andrei Petrov, who shows great imagination in the many ritual dances. Mlada appears only as a dancer. In the first part of the opera, her ghost appears in a dream sequence with Yaromir (remarkably danced by Kirill Nikitin, who looks more like a football player than a danseur). Act III takes place on Mount Triglav, where during the Witches' Sabbath Yaromir is shown a vision of Cleopatra who performs an exotic, sensuous dance. Both Mlada and Cleopatra are seductively performed by Nina Ananiashvili, renowned star of the Bolshoi Ballet. At the opera's conclusion, Yaromir is reunited with his faithful wife after killing Voislava. The entire cast is superb, the stereo sound adequate, but production leaves much to be desired. Barrie Gavin, Robin Scott and Catherine Ashmore are responsible for direction, production and photography. As much of Mlada is dancing, one would think they would realize when filming ballet the frame should show the entire dancer and only on the rarest occasion have detailed closeups. No performance date is given, but apparently it was in the early '90s. The DVD comes with a single page which lists the 19 chapters, and there are no bonus features. Subtitles are provided in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Japanese. This is the only DVD of Rimsky-Korsakov's terrific opera-ballet and is recommended as such. Cleopatra's dance will stay with you a long time!

R.E.B. (February 2007)