The Snow Maiden – Rimsky-Korsakov – Opera North

It’s a long time since I’ve been to the opera; it isn’t something my partner particularly enjoys and since he uncomplainingly comes to most theatre productions with me I think he’s allowed put his foot down somewhere.

I’ve seen some good reviews of Opera North’s The Snow Maiden in both the national and local press so when a friend said she was thinking of going I asked if I could join her.  It’s a slightly nervy thing going to the theatre with someone for the first time.  You don’t know what their rituals and expectations are; you don’t know whether they will want to discuss the staging of the production or whether they will think it pretentious; will they be offended if I want to read my programme cover to cover? etc.etc.  In the event I needn’t have worried; there were enough opinions and discussions amongst the 5 of us to keep everyone amused and space between to read programmes.

According to the programme notes this is the first full, professional production of this opera for 60 years.  So, the story is, in brief, Spring has a fling with Winter and a daughter is born to them – the titular Snow Maiden – the Sun-God is offended by this so Winter and Spring keep her hidden in 16 years of perpetual winter.  Snow Maiden goes to live with the local villagers, is adopted by a couple and works alongside the local women. A local girl, Kupava, is about to marry a rich merchant, Mizgir, but as soon as Mizgir sees Snow Maiden he falls in love and spurns Kupava.  Kupava demands justice from the Tsar.  The Tsar sees the Snow Maiden and understands Mizgir’s problem so resolves the Snow Maiden needs to learn to love.  At mid-summer eve the Tsar proclaims they will celebrate love. Spring teaches Snow Maiden how to love, she declares her love to Mizgir and as her frozen heart melts with love so she too melts.

The production was an interesting one.  I enjoyed the music – I like Rimsky-Korsakov – and it is a typical Russian fairy story.  The singing was, as far as my experience allows me to judge, excellent and the singers looked right for their parts.

The set was interesting and I can’t decide whether it worked for me or not.

Part of it involved projecting snow flakes or flowers onto not just the backdrop but a mesh screen at the front of the stage.  I liked the way that it created the feeling of perpetual winter, then approaching spring and finally warm summer.  But I do think that at times I got absorbed in the pictures being drawn, let the music and singing wash over me and forgot to follow the plot.

The more tangible parts of the set and the costumes I found more confusing.  The story is clearly set in pre-revolutionary Russia.  One of the characters is clearly call the Tsar yet the stage set was obviously a post-revolution sewing factory. And it was a noisy job moving the sewing machines off-stage for the next scene.  The action happening in front of the curtain was disrupted by the noise at a couple of points.  Some of the stage movements of the cast were post-revolutionary – particularly the dancing at the beginning when they are calling for the death of winter – and they are dressed in appropriately communist red – but their style of dress is traditional Russian peasant: except Snow Maiden, who is dressed as though she has just come off the till at Morrisons!, and her parents who are in very traditional Old Believer Russian outfits.

It was also annoying that although the Opera is called The Snow Maiden she was referred to and called Snow Princess all the way through.  Make your mind up Opera North.

I appreciate that this has been a bit of a ranty post but I’d like to emphasised that I did enjoy my foray to the opera; certainly enough to make me look forward to a trip to La Boheme with my Aunt and Cousin.

I would recommend going to see this production but Friday was the last night until Opera North go on tour.

Look here for Opera North

Look here for Russian Folk Tales

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