There is still a chance to hear this rare work on Opera North's tour in England and Northern Ireland.
At OperaScotland we generally try to chronicle the activities of Scottish companies wherever they perform. We also record performances in Scotland by visiting companies - a recent example being the trip of Opera North to Edinburgh with excellent stagings of Billy Budd and a Puccini double-bill.
The current season of Opera North spotlights three contrasting operas derived from folk or 'fairy' tales. While each production has a different director, a decision has been taken to use one set, the components of which can be re-arranged easily. An added advantage of this quick change is to allow the introduction of a Saturday matinee. While two of these operas, Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) and La cenerentola (Rossini) can be classed as popular favourites, the third is a great rarity and well worth catching in Newcastle itself or later at Salford, Belfast or finally Nottingham.
The Snow Maiden by Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the first of his operas to be produced in Britain, when Sadler's Wells Opera staged it in 1933. It became a popular favourite and was revived regularly for twenty years. Sadly the Wells never brought it to Scotland, and otherwise the only production was an amateur one by Glasgow Grand Opera in 1957.
This tour offers an excellent opportunity to see an unusual work that overflows with instantly attractive music. In Newcastle, the vigorous performance by the orchestra and chorus under Leo McFall was quite outstanding, as though everyone in the company had grown to love this little known work.
If the opera's reputation has always been that it was too long for its material, on the basis of this performance that view is difficult to support as it all seems to flow with great conviction. It made for a strong and engaging evening. Among the several challenging roles for the cast there were no weak performances. Even the brief character roles of the Tsar and his minister were safe in the experienced hands of Bonaventure Bottone and Dean Robinson. The evening was successfully launched by Yvonne Howard and James Creswell as Spring and Frost, the Snow Maiden's parents. In addition to the title role, there were important performances in the parts of Lel, Kupava and Mizgir by very promising singers of a younger generation.
The production by John Fulljames is updated and set in a clothes factory, a unit where jeans are produced. Later the manufacturers have been upgraded to the production of wedding dresses while by the end they are making brightly-patterned Russian-style clothes for children. Now that we have become accustomed to an operatic world in which updating is a regular feature this should no longer distract. The only traditional costumes featuring were for the characters of Frost and Spring at the outset.
The Dance of the Tumblers, the only music that has maintained an independent life, was put across with tremendous energy at the start of the second half showing the production line in full swing.
Back between 1990 and 1995, in Scotland we were treated to four Rimsky operas by the Bolshoi and Kirov companies and it looked as though his works were to become a regular feature of the repertoire. Over twenty years has passed since then and it is a great pity that in all that time not one of his hugely entertaining operas has been seen in Scotland.
The run of this stimulating new production opened at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 21 January. Further performances followed on 28 January, then 3, 17 and 24 February. Tour dates include Newcastle (3 March), Salford (10 March), Belfast (17 March) and Nottingham (24 March).
The schedule for the Newcastle visit, starting Wednesday 1 March was: Wed Hansel and Gretel; Thu Cenerentola; Fri Snow Maiden; Sat mat Cenerentola; Sat eve Hansel and Gretel. The order of performance is identical at the three subsequent tour venues.
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