, October 2004
"Rimsky-Korsakov's retelling of Pushkin's "The House of the Weathercock" was quite controversial upon completion, and was never staged during his lifetime; only after substantial changes to the libretto was the work finally premiered in 1909. Although presented as a "fable with a moral," the tale of a power-hungry king's military defeat and subsequent failure to make good on all his promises drew too-close parallels with the Russian army's humiliating defeat by the Japanese at Port Arthur in 1906, and its allegory was taken to be much too critical of the Czar's leadership (or lack of).
The unusual production staged here is a revival of the 1984 Japanese Kabuki production put on by the San Francisco Opera. Most of the characters are in traditional Japanese whiteface, and the costuming and sets all have a very oriental flavor. This seems more than just a little bit ironic, but it makes for a visually stunning and entertaining watch. The beginning of Act II is especially beautiful to watch; on the dimly-lit set, which is bathed in shades of deep blue, a gigantic, cloud-enshrouded crescent moon floats among cherry trees as King Dodon discovers that both his sons have died on the battlefield. Shortly after, a brilliant crimson sun rises and the Queen emerges. The intense color saturation made the visual images absolutely eye-popping!
None of the singers here were recognizable to me, but they all acquitted themselves admirably throughout, and Kent Nagano's conducting of the superb Paris Orchestra was faultless, as well. The DTS surround content was seamless in its presentation. The only extras to speak of are trailers for other TDK opera DVDs, but the supplied booklet was very useful and informative, with plenty of information on the background and story line. At only 108 minutes, this makes for a very good introduction to opera for those who may be a bit opera-squeamish. Very highly recommended!"