Tchaikovsky: Iolanta/Stravinsky: Persephone [Teatro Real Madrid] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: Teatro Real Madrid
- Blu-ray Release Date: October 30, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
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Teatro Real Madrid gives us an unusual coupling of two Russian works: Tchaikovsky’s little known one-act opera, Iolanta, and Stravinsky’s vocal/dance recreation of the myth,Persephone. The unifying force behind these performances is the direction of stage legend Peter Sellars who brings his unique concepts to the proceedings. Singers with the exception of mezzosoprano Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marta) and bass Sir Willard White (Ibn-Hakia) in Iolanta and tenor Paul Groves (Eumolpe) in Persephone will be unfamiliar to most music fans outside of continental Europe. Not to worry as there are some powerhouse performances delivered by the other cast members, including Ekaterina Scherbachenko (Iolanta), Alexej Markov (Robert) and Pavel Cernoch (Vaudemont). Young maestro Teodor Currentzis brings out the essence effectively in both scores.
Iolanta is a blind princess, unaware of her affliction and sheltered by her doting father, King Rene (Dimitry Ulianov). The king has promised Iolanta to Duke Robert who is in love with the Countess Mathilde and wishes to break off this engagement. Upon entering the royal garden, Vaudemont, Robert’s friend, sees Iolanta and is smitten by her beauty. Robert believing that Iolanta is a sorceress who has enchanted his friend, vows to rescue him. King Rene discovers the lovers who now have recognized Iolanta’s blindness and declares that he will execute Vaudemont unless the physician, Ibn-Hakia, can restore her sight. This is a ruse to give Iolanta the will to be cured and after she regains her vision, the couple is united.
Persephone presents the legend of the goddess of vegetation (daughter of Zeus and Demeter) who is abducted by the god of the underworld, Pluto, but is fnally returned to earth. This brief work has three sections and incorporates two singers, Eumolpe and Persephone (Dominique Blanc) along with a chorus and dance corps that portrays Pluton, Demeter, and other deities.
Iolanta is shot against a very dark and shadowy background with minimalist sets. The lighting is often problematic with garish bright lights on the singers’ faces while close-up detail is smudged. Interestingly, the same sets are used for Persephone but with a well lighted stage at the beginning. Shortly, though, the lights go down, and we see a reddish backdrop signifying Persephone’s voyage to the underworld. Sunshine is restored at the conclusion with Persephone’s return. Detail is also much better in the second feature. Camera work is generally quite satisfying.
The music is quite different in both works, being lush and romantic in the Tchaikovsky, and neoclassical in the Stravinksy, Fortunately, the score details and vocal elements are well served by The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and, to a lesser degree, by the PCM 2.0 alternative.
Peter Sellars delivers a perceptive explanation of how he conceived of these works as studies in light and darkness. This goes a long way to understanding the use of light or its absence in the staging of these two works. Maestro Currentzis provides the musical perspective that shapes these pieces. You should consider watching this 21-minute feature as preparation to viewing these works.
The Definitive Word
The basis for recommending this BD is the superb presentation of Iolanta, visual reservations aside, since it is among Tchaikovsky’s final works and is rarely staged outside of Russia. There are many moments of ineffable beauty, concluding in the ethereal final chorus. The singers are up to the task, extremely photogenic, and, barebones sets aside, you will get an hour and a half that will literally take your breath away. Persephone requires a bit more tolerance since it is not the Stravinsky of The Rite of Spring or The Firebird, but of The Rake’s Progress. In addition, the choreography has a definite Asian flavor as interpreted by a company of Cambodian dancers, a bit of a reach for classic Greek mythology. Taken together, a Peter Sellars production always demands your attention, and this BD is no exception. An opportunity to see two unusual works, given compelling performances.
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