American Record Guide
, March 2010
This performance is from the stage of the 2008 Maggio Musicale Festival in Florence, Italy. The stylized, rather simple stage set depicts the Izmailov’s house and yard, and Katerina’s bedroom. Although the Izmailovs are, by the provincial standards of 19th Century Russia, wealthy merchants, with many servants and serfs, the furnishings are simple. All the men wear peasant or working clothes, even their boss, Boris, Katerina’s father-in-law and the owner of house, yard, and business. The police station in Act 3 is suggested by a desk, chairs, and a couple of jail-like partitions; and the final scene (Act 4) by the river takes place in an open field, where the prisoners can bed down for the night watched by the police. The river where Katerina and Sonetka drown is offstage. The lighting is dark and gloomy all the time, except for the wedding scene.
The cast is dominated by Russian singers who are evidently quite familiar with the opera. Vladimir Vaneev (Boris) has an excellent bass voice, and he is a splendid vocal and physical actor; his portrait of the evil landowner is well sung and chilling. He is also cast as the Old Convict in Act 4; in that role he sings his lament, one of the few lyric episodes in this grim work, with warm and smooth tones. Sergej Kunaev (Sergei), Katerina’s lover, has the looks of a matinee idol and a fine tenor voice; and Vsevolod Grivnov, Katerina’s first husband, characterizes his small role well. Natascha Petrinsky (Sonetka) is a persuasive seductress. Most of the minor roles are well cast, especially the pompous priest (Julian Rudesco) and drunken police inspector (Vladimir Matorin)…as Katerina, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet…has an ample, clear, and whitish voice that seems suitable for the role…She’s neither a flirt nor a seductress—from her performance here one would guess that sex doesn’t interest her…The orchestra plays very well, especially the brass, whose music is sometimes sexually explicit (like the Prelude of Strauss’s Rosenkavalier) in describing love-making. The score as a whole will remind the listener of the composer’s exuberant early works and not of his later, more mournful music. Good stereo sound.