Sunday, August 26, 2012


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 26th of August 2012 at 3 - 6.35 pm

GLINKA: Ruslan & Lyudmila, an opera in five acts
Svetozar....................... Vladimir Ognovenko
Lyudmila..................... Albina Shagimuratova
Ruslan.......................... Mikhail Petrenko
Ratmir.......................... Yuri Minenko
Farlaf........................... Almas Shvilpa
Gorislava...................... Alexandrina Pendachanska
Finn.............................. Charles Workman
Naina........................... Elena Zaremba
Bayan........................... Charles Workman
Bolshoi Theatre Chorus & Orch/Vladimir Jurowski

RECORD (video)
RECORD (audio)

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), in 5 acts, or 8 scenes, libretto after Pushkin (he was to write it but he was killed in a duel, like Lensky the poet in his Eugene Onegin). There will be things that remind us of Wagner (the sword, the spear, the magic garden with seductive women, the giant killed by his brother).
   The story is set in Kiev in the centuries when Slavic, Turkic, and Finnic tribes were associated with (and even ruled by) Scandinavians (Varangians, Vikings) as the Kievan Rus people (let’s call them Russians). Like the story of the opera, the ethnic situation was a bit of muddle; judging from his name, it looks as if Ruslan was a Rus (and they were Vikings, an old chronicle tells us); of course Kiev is now the capital of the Ukraine (little Russia). I really must study Russian history and get it all sorted out in my head, by reading again that History of the Baltic region my Finnish son-in-law gave me. Anyway this was the olden days, before the 12th century.

Svetozar (bass), the ruler of Kiev, has a daughter named Lyudmila (soprano), who is betrothed to a Kievan knight called Ruslan (another bass). Two other suitors are a Varangian (Viking) knight yclept Farlaf (yes, yet another bass, as this is a Russian opera), and Ratmir, a Khazar prince (contralto). There are two tenors, in minor roles: Bayan the musical bard, and Finn the good sorcerer. A mezzo-soprano plays the bad sorceress Nayina; and the other soprano is Gorislava, who is in some kind of relationship with Ratmir.
   The performance available on video disc (1995) is from Saint Petersburg, with (sigh!) the Netrebko, the divine (but no haughty diva) Anna. Valery Giergiev is the more than competent conductor.
   There is a famous rushing overture to get us stirred up for five minutes or so; and we hear some exciting and beautiful orchestration throughout the opera.

Act 1
In the banqueting hall of Great Prince Svetozar, the wedding feast for Ruslan and the princess Lyudmila is in full swing. The white-bearded minstrel Bayan fancies himself as a seer, and he predicts that misfortune shall befall the couple, but true love will triumph and they will live happily ever after.
   Lyudmila rises to sing her cavatina, first expressing her sadness over leaving her dear father, and then offering solace to her unsuccessful suitors, Farlaf (who is sulking) and Ratmir; she then commits herself to Ruslan. Svetozar gives his paternal blessing to the blissful pair.
   An evil darkness descends on the company, and Lyudmila is whisked away. It is of no use to be crying "Don’t panic", and amid the confusion Svetozar pledges half his kingdom and the hand of Lyudmila (so, he had not quite given it away yet?) to any man (including the woman disguised as a man, Ratmir) who can retrieve his daughter. Ruslan, Ratmir, and Farlaf (who is now as eager as the racehorse Pharlap) prepare for the quest.

Act 2.1
Ruslan comes to the cave of Finn the Finn, a benevolent wizard, who informs him that Lyudmila has been abducted by the dwarf Chernomor and is imprisoned in his enchanted garden; but never fear, Ruslan will slay Chernomor. When asked why he lives in this remote place, Finn says he is hiding from a wicked witch named Nayina; long ago and far away, he was a shepherd, and she was a gorgeous young girl; he fell in love with her, but she rejected him; he went away to fight,  and brought back precious booty for this beauty,  but she was not impressed; he studied magic for many years, but then found that Nayina had become an ugly old crone, with a passion for him; so he changed his mind and fled from her. As a spurned woman she is out to get him, and Ruslan could be in danger, too. Nevertheless, he may rest assured that Lyudmila will be safe from harm. Finn sends Ruslan northwards. (If these soothsayers keep telling us everything will turn out right in the end, we might lose interest.)

Act 2.2
Farlaf, not exactly a knight brave and bold, considers giving up the quest, but he is approched by the wicked Nayina (Finn the good dwarf had warned Ruslan about her in the previous scene). Nayina offers a scheme to let him gain Lyudmila; he should wait until Ruslan finds her, and then carry her off again; Nayina would send Ruslan far away. Farlaf exults in a rondo: The hour of my triumph is near.

Act 2.3
Ruslan, the favourite, wanders in a fog on a battlefield: O field, field, who has strewn you with dead men’s bones? He ponders whether he will die in the attempt. He finds a  spear and a shield, but he still needs a trusty sword. (Here we think of Siegmund and Siegfried.) He comes upon a giant head, which blows up a storm with its breath to drive him away. Ruslan smites the head with the spear and it falls away to reveal a sword. The head tells him he was a giant, and brother of Chernomor, the dwarf and evil sorcerer. (We remember Siegfried and the dying dragon-giant Fafner telling his story.) This sword was destined to kill both brothers, but the dwarf cut off the giant’s head and placed it in this desert place to conceal the deadly weapon. Now that Ruslan has the sword he can gain vengeance for himself and the giant.

Act 3.1
Ratmir, the poet (a female contralto with a beard), makes his appearance in this tableau. At Nayina’s enchanted palace, Gorislava  is searching for Ratmir, the man she loves; he had captured her and then abandoned her. (The soprano looks as good as Netrebko, and sings as sweetly; just as well, because Anna will not be on show in the three scenes we are watching in this session.) Gorislava goes off, and Ratmir arrives; he falls horribly under the spell of one of the seductive sirens who lure men to the place. (They are played by the ladies of the ballet corps; it’s ‘bring on the dancing girls’ time.) When Ruslan comes on the scene it is the sight of Gorislava which captivates him, and he is in danger of forgetting about Lyudmila. Finn the Finn saves the day: he promises Ratmir happiness with Gorislava, and the same for Ruslan with Lyudmila; the castle is turned into a forest. The true quest is resumed.

 Three men (Ruslan, Ratmir, Farlaf) are searching for the princess Lyudmila, who has been abducted by the evil sorcerer Chernomor. The hero who brings her home to her father will have her as his bride, though she has already committed herself to Ruslan.
Act 3.2
We are still at Nayina’s enchanted palace. Gorislava loves Ratmir, but he has been captivated by Lyudmila, and he (though a female contralto) is now under the spell of the seductive sirens employed by Nayina to waylay travellers (we have learned from Gorislava that Ratmir has a personal harem). This is an excuse for bringing on the ladies of the ballet corps; there will be more dancing in the next tableau. Ruslan arrives, and he likes the look of Gorislava. Nayina the bad witch appears, exulting over her prey; but Finn (who had long loved her to no avail, and now has the power to overcome her magic) intervenes in the situation. Her domain is turned into forest (bad!), and Finn promises that true love will win in the end for the two pairs of lovers.

Act 4
At last we see Lyudmila again (Anna Netrebko has been hidden for three whole scenes). She is in the garden of delights owned by Chernomor, the dwarf with the long white beard (which is the seat of his power). She singa a long aria: she is missing Ruslan, and resisting the enticements. Chernomor is brought on with his retinue. Three oriental dances are performed: Turkish, Arabian, Legzinka). A trumpet call announces Ruslan, come to challenge  Chernomor and beard him in his den (or unbeard him). Ludmilya is put into a spellbound sleep.

Chernomor is brought on in pomp with his retinue. Another balletic entertainment ensues; three oriental dances are performed: Turkish, Arabian, Legzinka. A trumpet call announces Ruslan, who has come to challenge Chernomor and beard him in his den (or unbeard him). Ludmilya is in a spellbound sleep. Ruslan overcomes the dwarf and attaches the white trophy to his helmet. He will take Ludmilya back to Kiev (hoping that the magicians there can rouse her); he is accompanied by Ratmir and his beloved Gorislava, and the whole company of liberated slaves.

Glinka, Ruslan and Lyudmila

Act 5, Scene 1
Ruslan and Ratmir have rescued Lyudmila from the powerful dwarf Chernomor, though she is still in a coma. They camp in a valley, and Ratmir stands on guard; he is concerned about Ruslan, but he is happy to be reunited and rconciled with his beloved Gorislava.

Suddenly the slaves report that Lyudmila has been abducted yet again, and so Ruslan has gone to search for her. Finn appears, as he always does when help is needed; he gives Ratmir a magic ring that will awaken Lyudmila when she is found again.

Has anyone seen shifty Farlaf, the third questing knight, lately? We left him in Act 2.2, exulting because the wicked witch Nayina had showed him how to gain Lyudmila for himself.

Act 5, Scene 2
Princess Lyudmila has been abducted by the evil dwarf Chermonor, and three suitors have searched for her tirelessly. Her beloved Ruslan has rescued her, with the help of another of the trio, namely Ratmir, who is now happy to live with his Gorislava, and not seek to disband his harem.

On the way back to Kiev, Lyudmila disappears again; we now learn that she has been whisked away to Kiev by the third knight, the devious Farlaf, assisted by the witch Nayina. In the hall of her father Svetozar, Farlaf makes out that he was Lyudmila’s saviour, and he claims her as his bride. The trouble is that she is sound asleep, under Chernomor’s magic spell.
Ruslan, accompanied by Ratmir and Gorislava, arrives bearing a ring from Finn, the sworn opponent of Nayina, and with this Lyudmila is awakened. The people take up from where they left off in Act 1, and rejoice over the young couple.

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