Snegurochka was Korsakov’s favourite opera and for its composition he moved to a country house close to Louga to listen to nature’s voices, as he mentioned in his autobiography (“…an abundance of field flowers, continuous chirping of the birds, all this harmonized particularly with my pantheistic state of mind then, and my enthusiasm for the subject of Snegouochka. Some trunks of trees, large and twisted, or covered with moss, appeared to me like spirits of the woods…”). The opera was heard first in Saint Petersburg in 1885 and in 1893 in Moscow.
Korsakov went as far as to write the libretto himself. The story of Snegurochka revolves around Snow Maiden, the daughter of Spring Beauty and Frost, who wants to find love and live with the humans, the nomadic tribe of the Berendays. She finds love in Lel, who rejects her but is wooed by Mizgir, who sees her when he was just about to marry Kupava. The rejected Kupava appeals to the tsar who declares that whoever successfully woes Snow Maiden will be rewarded. At the end Kupava finds love in Lel while Snow Maiden melts under a ray of sun and the Berendays praise the return to the cycles of nature. The libretto is a bit unbalanced, with parts that move very slow and others almost ridiculously fast. The music, I found, never completely takes off with many declamatory passages and slow arias and what struck me most with little variations in tempi, which plunges the whole action in a long dreamlike almost monotonous flow. I guess Tcherniakov was not behind this although adapting the score to his vision is not new to him: In Snegurochka he makes Lel a countertenor instead of a mezzosoprano, he cuts the lively dances and makes Snegurochka declare her final lines to Lel instead of Mizgir making the plot even more confusing. I know I go against mainstream judgement but all in all I found the opera a bit long-winded and less inspired than for eg. The Golden Cockerel, which I recently saw in Brussels.
Tcherniakov sets the prologue in a dance school and all the rest in the forest. The Berendays live in caravans and dress colourfully (a mix of flower power, pagan sect, Russian traditions and camping outfit). The “tsar” is the leader of the pack. Nonetheless Tcherniakov makes them inhabitants of the 21st century (the sneakers, the photo flashes of mobile phones…) maybe to point at the universality of the plot. The sets are beautifully designed, well lit, and the costumes gorgeous. Snegurochka was not only Korsakov’s favourite opera but one Tcherniakov always wanted to do, he claims. Funnily enough I feel the inspiration was not the highest, the masses were not moved with such elegance and power as, say, in Borodin’s Prince Igor. Beautiful was the set change from the school to the forest, and the circling trees.
The orchestra played beautifully under Tatarnikov’s hand, showing off beautiful and sparkling colours. The singers were all very good or even excellent. Aida Garifullina and Martina Serafin have beautiful and strong soprano voices which fill the huge Bastille with ease. Yuriy Mynenko lacks the necessary projection but his voice is never covered as Lel’s orchestration is always delicate. A bit unrefined the baritonal voice of the charisma-lacking lover Thomas Johannes Meyer and the tsar of Maxim Paster. Adequate all others including the robust mezzo of Elena Manistina. Excellent the choir.
Direction musicale-Mikhail Tatarnikov, Mise en scène et decors-Dmitri Tcherniakov, Costumes-Elena Zaitseva, Lumières-Gleb Filshtinsky, Snegourochka-Aida Garifullina, Lel-Yuriy Mynenko, Kupava-Martina Serafin, Le Tzar Berendeï-Maxim Paster, Mizguir-Thomas Johannes Mayer, La Fée Printemps-Ekaterina Semenchuk, Le Bonhomme Hiver-Vladimir Ognovenko, Bermiata-Franz Hawlata, Bobyl Bakula-Vasily Gorshkov, Bobylicka-Carole Wilson, L’Esprit des bois-Vasily Efimov, Premier Héraut-Vincent Morell, Deuxième Héraut-Pierpaolo Palloni, Un Page-Olga Oussova. 22nd April 2017. Pictures Elisa Haberer from the Opera National de Paris.