Rachmaninoff's Claustrophobic Masterpiece Beautifully Done
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This production of Rachmaninoff's opera, 'The Miserly Knight,' was part of a double-bill on the theme of avarice at Glyndebourne in July 2004. The other opera on the bill was Puccini's 'Gianni Schicchi,' already reviewed glowingly by me here at Amazon. Stage director Annabel Arden gets credit for making this exceedingly difficult-to-stage opera come alive. She did so at least partly by adding a character not in the score, a figure, played by aerialist Matilda Leyser, who personifies Greed and who also acts out, in a way, the kind of commentary on the action provided by Rachmaninoff's orchestral score. Leyser is stunningly creepy, bringing a kind of subtext to the action that might not otherwise have come across. Arden also gives less than noble instincts to the character of the Duke who in Pushkin's text is rather more of a cipher. In any event, the staging is perfect for this claustrophobic meditation on the power of greed, one of Pushkin's so-called 'Little Tragedies.'
As to the musical aspects of this productions, full marks all round. Vladimir Jurowski, an exciting conductor, is in complete control of the complicated musical textures. Rachmaninoff provided a very dense, almost a-melodic orchestral and vocal score that is psychologically astute; Glyndebourne's house orchestra, the London Philharmonic, has the full measure of it, as do the singers. The middle scene, a 24-minute monolog by the Knight in his cellar with his collection of chests of gold pieces, is masterfully done by baritone Sergei Leiferkus. Also outstanding is huge-voiced basso Albert Schagidullin as the Duke. Only slightly less effective is tenor Richard Berkeley-Steel as the Knight's son, Albert. The only other characters in the all-male vocal cast -- Maxim Mikhailov as the Servant and Vyacheslav Voynarovskiy as the Moneylender -- are excellent.
Extras include a spoken synopsis, illustrated by stills from the production; interestingly, it does not include the slight (but telling) changes in the plot that actually occur in this production (and I won't be giving those plot twists away here), and an extended set of interviews with Arden, Jurowski and Leiferkus concerning their understanding of the opera and their contributions to this production.
TT=95 mins; LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1; Subtitles English, French, German, Spanish, Italian.
Further info on an outstanding rarity
Bryan Leech | Melbourne, VIC, Australia | 05/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rachmaninov wrote only three operas, Aleko, The Miserly Knight (1906, written between the second and third piano concerti) and Francesca da Rimini. The story of 'The Miserly Knight' is essentially philosophical, presented as the tale of how greed robs people of their humanity. It is adapted from Pushkin, and retains most of the elements of Pushkin's blank verse poem.
This is a thought-provoking psychological work set to dark and haunting music. It is not the Rachmaninov of the piano concerti; less lyrical and more dramatic, but just as appealing, with great melodic orchestral sweeps. It is written in the style of German opera - no actual arias to remain in the memory, but very musical (read: listenable and enjoyable) recitative employing leitmotivs. The 'musical' progression comes more from the drama, which leads the music.
This is an opera that must be done well to succeed, and on this performance it succeeds in every respect. It is a masterpiece, and makes you wish that Rachmaninov had written more operas.
The original setting is England in Medieval times, but like so many productions, it has been modernized into an abstract setting of indefinite period. This works well, except for the appearance of one character in a modern suit. The musical performance, as others have observed, is wonderful. The opera was written for Chaliapin, and the Russian baritone, Sergei Leiferkus, is marvelous in that role of the 'miserly Knight', especially in a 20 minute monolog in the second scene. This amazing passage justifies buying the DVD just for that passage alone.
Most of the small cast is Russian and there is not one weak link. Jarowski, with one of the world's greatest orchestras, captures the unique Russian feel, and interprets every part of the score perfectly.
If you look at my reviews, they are nearly all 5 stars: this is because I only review releases that I think are excellent, wanting to share an enjoyable performance with others. This release is an absolute must for every lover of late-romantic opera, (it deserves 6 stars), one of the best releases of any genre it has been my pleasure to review. Recorded with high-definition cameras, and with top-rate 5.1 sound engineering; this coupled with excellent camera work and direction (I was looking for Brian Large's name in the credits, in vain) you are provided with a technically first-class record of the performance. Sound, 5.1 DTS, image 16:9, duration approx. 95 minutes.. (If you know someone with a large screen projection system, say 100" or more) and good surround sound, prevail on them to let you watch this on such a system). Buy it."
Great opera and production
A. Lupu | Rochester, MN USA | 05/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Not much of a plot, but who cares. The music is great and the signing just beautiful. The long monologue (about 24 minutes) is opera at its best. The soul, and not necessarily the best moral one, put in music.
worth listening many times.
Gloriously dark brooding music you'll love!
P. Sutherland | Berea, Ohio, USA | 11/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can hardly add to the comments of previous reviewers with whom I am in complete agreement. But, I wanted to do some raving myself. The music of this short drama is so dark and powerful and beautiful, you will marvel at it and want to hear it again and again. The production and entire cast are simply perfect; I can't imagine this story done any other way.
Sergei Leiferkus in the title role as the baron gives a ten star performance. Matilda Leyser, the aerialist who appears with the knight as a haunting, shadowy, creepy presence accentuates the brooding power of the music. She's like a demonic spider dangling within reach, revelling at the baron's twisted greed. In other productions where an extra character is thrown in by the director I find this very irritating, but here, it works.
Vladimir Jurowski brings the music to its ultimate expression.
You'll love this!"