Tchaikovsky's 'The Enchantress' at Grange Park,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL
The Enchantress ('Charodeika') dates from Tchaikovsky's mature period (it is followed only by The Queen of Spades and Iolanta) but is rarely seen on stage because it is based on a rather awful costume melodrama by Shpazhinsky (who wrote the libretto for Tchaikovsky's opera). The action is, for no apparent reason, set in the fifteenth century. It concerns Nikita, the vice-regent of Novgorod and how he and his son, Yuri, both fall for the charms of Nastasya the proprietress of the local inn. With the help of the puritanical deacon, Mamirov, Nikita's wife, the princess finds out about and poisons Nastasya. She dies in Yuri's arms and Nikita in his fury kills Yuri. A shabby little shocker indeed! The title of the opera comes about because the comely and charming Nastasya (known colloquially as Kuma) is regarded to be an enchantress, to have magic powers to enchant men.
For his staging at Grange Park Opera in the UK, David Fielding updated the action roughly to the present day. The flexible, permanent set consists of a curved wall, covered with a disturbingly lurid purple wallpaper whose pattern varies in scale from normal to absurdly large. The action of Act I takes place in Kuma's inn, now some sort of brothel.
Fielding's updating works, in general, very well but he has had to massage some elements of the plot to make them work. The inn has to become a brothel in order to warrant the attention of Nikita (now referred to as the supremo) and Mamirov (now Nikita's right-hand man). This loss of Mamirov's religious element is one of the weakest points of the updating. The other serious issue is that with a modern setting we can no-longer believe that people think Kuma has magical powers.
But in Act I, Grange Park gave us a stage teeming with anecdotal action and a highly musical performance under David Lloyd Jones. The brothel is furnished in truly naff contemporary fashion; this is somewhere where the oppressed locals come to relax. There are innumerable small roles, all of them well taken by the Grange Park cast and well differentiated by Fielding (both director and designer). In fact, this inn/brothel scene with its large cast of characters rather resembled something out of an opera by Mussorgsky.
Kuma was played by Janis Kelly looking very sexy in a short white skirt; very much the centre of attention and revelling in it. She also sounded very much at home with the Russian text. Rather bravely Grange Park had decided to perform the work in Russian though the cast contained only one native speaker. But the decision paid off well, though no Russian language coach was credited in the programme booklet.
Copyright © 10 July 2004
Robert Hugill, London UK