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Le Coq D'Or [Import USA Zone 1]
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N.Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) : Le Coq D'Or, opéra en trois actes sur le livret de Vladimir I.Bielski d'après le conte en vers de Pouchkine, le Coq d'Or. Ennosuke Ichikawa, mise en scène Théâtre Musical de Paris, Châtelet, 2002 Système NTSC - Code région : 0 - 108 min --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Blu-ray.
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Le scénario est inspiré d’un conte populaire russe, dont Pouchkine, bien présent dans les opéras russes, a publié un poème satirique et qui a servi de base à Rimski-Korsakov pour sa dernière oeuvre. On a affaire à une légende très corrosive, burlesque par moments, et même dérangeante, notamment par la caricature du tsar, borné et idiot.
L’orchestration est somptueuse, pleine de couleurs elle aussi, notamment par l’apport de thèmes orientaux, arabes ou exotiques. Cette musique a par moments un côté extravagant et préfigure Stravinski. Des instruments solistes sont dédiés à certains personnages : la trompette au coq, la clarinette à la reine, etc.
La distribution est dominée par 2 personnages : le roi Dodon magnifiquement interprété par une belle basse russe, Albert Schagidullin que nous avions déjà remarqué dans le Roberto Devereux de Munich où il donne la réplique à E. Gruberova. Cela montre son éclectisme.Lire la suite ›
Après son chef-d'œuvre : « La légende de la ville invisible de Kitège. » Rimsky-Korsakov s'appuie sur un conte de Pouchkine, révélant les faiblesses et les passions de la nature humaine.
Ce sera « Le coq d'or. » Son dernier opéra.
Un des personnages, l'Astrologue qui ouvre et conclut l'opéra déclare à la fin:" que seul lui et la princesse sont des êtres mortels. Tous les autres protagonistes ne sont que chimères et fantômes et l'intrigue, un simple rêve."
Sur cette trame féérique Rimsky-Korsakov va composer une musique diaphane aux sinuosités orientales qu'éclaire une orchestration toujours plus originale.
Nous retrouvons le compositeur de Schéhérazade, celui qui annonce les débuts de Stravinski.
De l'avis même du librettiste Bielski nous pouvons situer cette action en tout lieu, à toute époque.
LA MISE EN SCÈNE :
L'équipe réunie autour d'Ennosuke Ichikawa a profité pleinement de cette ouverture.
Ennosuke Ichikawa est une grande figure du kabuki, cet art de théâtre populaire, né au Japon au XVI ème siècle. En opposition au NÔ réservé à la noblesse.
Ennosuke est un défenseur du style Edo, le style aragoto, celui dit de la manière forte.Lire la suite ›
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Be that as it may, this production can be viewed without all the political baggage as a sumptuous and fantastic fairy tale set to music. I will not recount the plot except to say that when the Tsar Dodon discovers that his sons have been killed in battle that he has sent them into he decides that 'the older ones' (meaning himself and his older general, Polkan) should henceforth 'do the fighting' and spare the loss of the younger men of the realm. (Is that a sly comment on war in general, do you suppose?) The Tsar loses a final battle to invading forces only to find that they are commanded by a woman, the Queen of Shemakha, who on her entrance sings the only well-known aria from this opera, the so-called 'Hymn to the Sun.' He becomes besotted with love for the Queen and thus begins his downfall. His realm had been protected by the warnings of the magical Golden Cockerel, given him by the Astronomer, but at the end of the opera the Cockerel turns on him and pecks him to death. The Astronomer, in the Epilogue, asks the audience not to be too alarmed by what has happened, because 'only the Queen and I are real - all the others were simply illusions.'
The music for this opera is luscious Orientalism. The Queen's entrance aria, with which most of us are familiar from its inclusion in many recitals and TV appearances by coloratura sopranos, is typical of the Eastern melismas heard throughout the piece. There are recurring leitmotifs, most of which first occur in the prélude, and some recurring harmonic devices as well, e.g. the juxtaposition of the triads of D flat major and E major.
This production is extraordinarily beautiful visually. The simple stage setting is a neutral setting for sumptuous costumes that are Kabuki-inspired and are in saturated almost Day-Glo colors. The stage direction, done by a Kabuki actor, Ennosuke Ichikawa, requires the singers (all but one of them Russian) to move in the stereotypical style familiar from Kabuki theater. They all have the heavy Kabuki mask-like make-up. (Indeed, when I first saw the Astronomer I thought he was WEARING a mask until I saw a muscle twitch!) There is a good bit of very effective dancing - Rimsky included a fair amount of ballet music in the piece - which is also in the stylized Kabuki style. All in all, then, this production comes across as something both exotic and exciting, and in my view it fits the exotic story quite well. I'm not generally a fan of changing the settings of operas, but in this case it works very well, at least partly because for Western viewers Fairy-Tale Land and Japanese Kabuki theater have much in common.
The singers are, without exception, wonderful. In particular I would single out the rich-voiced basso of Albert Schagidullin as King Dodon, and the spot-on colorature of Olga Trifonova as the proto-Turandot Queen of Shemakha. My highest praise goes to the high tenor of Barry Banks as the Astronomer. I'd love to hear/see him in Prokofiev's 'The Nose' whose protagonist has a similar almost impossibly high tessitura.
The production was filmed at a live performance at the Châtelet in Paris. The wonderful chorus was imported from the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, and the Orchestre de Paris was led with a light hand and rhythmic flexibility by American conductor Kent Nagano. This is a short opera - only about 1h45m - and the end came too soon.
This production of a rarely mounted opera is recommended for those wishing to broaden their operatic horizons.
Both Rimsky-Korsakov and the librettist V. Bel'sky laid down very specific remarks about how The Golden Cockerel should be performed and it's clear that this production, even if it has a somewhat more oriental flavour, is nonetheless completely faithful to the composer's original intentions and even perhaps recognises that the opera was inspired by the conflict between Russia and Japan in 1904 at the time the opera was composed. The basic stage dressing is accordingly simple and abstract in the manner of a fable, but it is also extraordinarily beautiful with all the magic and fascination of a fairytale. If the stage then consists of little more than a brightly luminous backdrop to reflect the time of day or mood, and there is little on the stage but some steps to suggest a royal palace and stylised trees to represent the kingdom, the colourful costumes and Kabuki make-up reflect the larger-than-life characters and, to a large extent, Rimsky-Korsakov's rich romantic scoring of the work, filled with fantastical melodies and folk influences, with leitmotifs and a Scheherazade-like middle-Eastern exoticism. It's given a wonderful warm account here at the Châtelet with Kent Nagano conducting.
The space is needed on the stage moreover to contain all the extras, chorus and dancers - all beautifully costumed - and give room to the principals because this is a singer's opera (rather than say a dramatic opera or a conceptual one), with a wonderful range of voices and expression from bass declamation to soprano coloratura. Using a largely Russian cast, those roles are in good hands in this Châtelet production, with bass Albert Schagidullin as King Dodon and Olga Trifonova the Queen of Shemakha. In among all those Russians however is Barry Banks, perfectly cast for the specific demands of the high tenor role of the Astrologer. The singing is of a very high standard throughout.
This beautiful, colourful production certainly benefits from its upgrade to Blu-ray for the High Definition 16:9 widescreen image and for the sound mixes in PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 that put over the qualities of the orchestration and singing. It's really quite breathtaking. The Blu-ray is All-Region, 1080i, a BD25 disc with no extra features, although the booklet is informative and includes a synopsis. Subtitles are English, German, Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese.
My introduction to classical music occurred when my father brought home a $3.99 LP of Le Coq d'Or at a local grocery store; I was sixteen. (Hugo Rignold and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Alshire, if you must know.) Why? I have no idea. He didn't especially like classical music. But, intrigued, I listened to it once, twice, thrice, began to pick up the themes and melodies, and found I actually liked that kind of music. So this work has a special significance for me.
I saw it staged in a wonderful production in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles in 1978, and have since wished to have it on videotape - now I do.
My only complaint is the minimalist settings and the kabuki style makeup and acting. Being the only recording of this work, I would have preferred a more conventional Russian fairytale setting - the kind of thing Bilibin drew. In other words, in the style of a children's book from the early 1900's, when the work was written. Perhaps the sets could emulate the style of one of those charming Russian painted boxes...
However, having said this, I can also appreciate the artistic vision of this production. The primary value of the minimalist set and highly stylized movements and make up is to reinforce the suspicion that perhaps Dodon, the Queen and the Astrologer are archetypes of some larger tale and significance. (Surely, the Queen is a femme fatale - the scene where she taunts Dodon reminds me of Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings in "The Blue Angel.") This is borne out in the notes in the DVD's booklet, quoting the librettist V. Bel'sky: "...Pushkin has shrouded in mystery the relationship between his two fantastical characters: The Astrologer and the Queen. Did they hatch a plot against Dodon? Did they meet by accident, both intent on the king's downfall? The author does not tell us, and yet this is a question to be solved in order to determine the interpretation of the work." I like to think that perhaps there are, or could be, other Astrologer/Queen stories - too bad Rimsky isn't around to score them!
The simplest and most direct interpretation, of course, is that it was Rimsky-Korsakov's criticism of his government, which makes perfect sense. Rimsky had a definite political side. His Dodon was the blockheaded Tsar, and, in retrospect, could be also viewed as an even more blockheaded Russian Socialist government.
Having seen this production, I now appreciate this work much more than I ever did listening to the orchestral suite or the opera on LPs. And, once again, the booklet helps. Prior to purchasing this DVD, I never knew that Pushkin adapted his story "The House of the Weathercock" from a tale by Washington Irving, "The Alhambra." (You can google it and find it on the web to read, and you should. The Spanish/Moorish setting is interesting.) What fascinates me is that one of the themes of the original work - comfort and safety, warning and strife - made it into the opera. Dodon snoozes, "rules from his bed," and dreams of the mysterious Queen (again reinforcing a notion that she's an archetypical character). The rooster cries, and the army is dispatched. War and peace, peace and war.
Okay, okay, perhaps I'm over intellectualizing here. But I'm delighted to think that Rimsky's last opera isn't a mere childish fantasy; that it has real themes and meanings underlying the Oriental opulence of the music and staging.
Anyway, a recommended purchase. Best of all, my seventeen-year-old daughter expressed interest in it and so we recently watched it together one (unforgettable) snowy Sunday. Now it's family lore.
Long live Tsar Dodon!