The Snow Maiden – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, January 2017
19th century Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov, revived the story of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Snow Maiden, as an opera. It is well worth the revival. Based on an old Russian folk tale about the infamous coupling of Spring Beauty and Father Frost, which results in the birth of a beautiful daughter, The Snow Maiden shows how the composer creatively uses the resources of Russian folk music to brilliant effect. The score is superbly played by the Opera North orchestra, who seem to get better with each hearing.
There is vivid and colourful staging with orthodox Russian peasant costumes. These blend well with the spectacular, but surprisingly modern, wedding dresses. The strong cast of Opera North show themselves well-versed in the idiom and cope impressively with the pieces’ substantial vocal and dramatic demands.
The lighting and video effects are quite simply spectacular. They add so much to the feel of Russian fairy tales and folk music, and are also quite beautiful to watch. The effects of a snow covered terrain, a dense forest, and snowflakes falling have, in my experience, never been bettered.
“Agony of love”
The role of the Snow Maiden is impressively sung by Irish soprano Aoiefe Miskelly. She is a tad too wimpish and wistful in Act One, but is movingly strong in Act Four. Here, she fights her way through to the love she is longing for. The eventual object of her emotions, Mizgir, is sung by Phillip Rhodes. He portrays his agony of love for the Snow Maiden with superb longing. Mizgir is the one true tragedy in the story, and Rhodes’ anguish shines through in his superb baritone.
The role of Lel, a young and handsome youth who the girls all adore, is sung by Heather Lowe. She has a beautiful mezzo soprano voice, which does not seem at all out of place. With her short, blonde hair and masculine stride she is the epitome of an English pantomime’s principal boy. But she wrings every ounce of cheek and cockiness out of the part, until you eventually forget she is a girl.
The performance of Elin Pritchard as Kupava, the jilted bride of Mizgir, is the outstanding performance of the night. She has everything needed for the role. She possesses a beautiful soprano voice and a convincing acting talent, but also a quirky talent for comedy which brings a lightness to the story, and a smile to the audience. Her facial expressions and physical signs of contempt continue even when the highlight is on others and she has no part in the action. The actress lives the part, and is totally immersed in the emotions of Kupava as she fights for her rightful justice.
There is also a nice touch of comedy by Claire Pascoe and Joseph Shovelton as Bobyl and Bobylikha Bakula. They are a staid middle aged married couple who get unexpectedly caught up in the romantic goings-on of the young people, to their own very obvious delight.
The Snow Maiden is a wonderful blend of ancient and modern, with the folk-lore of old Russia to the fore of Rimsky-Korsakov’s music. It is one of his lesser known operas, and initially does not sound like the music we know and love from him. But as this long opera progresses, we hear the strains of the Rimsky-Korsakov that we recognise. There we acclaim him all the more for the breadth and scope of his talent, and his obvious love for his homeland.
images: Richard Hubert Smith