<< -- 3 -- Robert Hugill GRAND GUIGNOL
Yuri finally learns of his father's suspected infidelities with Kuma and vows to avenge his mother's honour. Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts was untiring as Yuri. I sometimes wished for a little more variety in his tone, but could not fault his dramatic commitment. And in his duet with his mother, both he and Wilson were sympathetic to the musical needs of Tchaikovsky's lyrical genius.
This is the aspect of the opera that is most curious. Despite its melodramatic plot and grand guignol ending, aspects of Tchaikovsky's lyrical genius come through. In the opening of Act III, Nikita is trying to persuade Kuma to become his lover and she refuses; this whole act is one of the most lyrical in the opera. And both Kelly and Savenko did ample justice both to the unsatisfied yearning of Nikita's music and the enticing charm of Kuma's.
Kuma is the only fully rounded character in the drama and Kelly was on good form. The climax of this act is the complex scene between Yuri and Kuma as he arrives to murder her and eventually admits his love for her. Here the creaky melodrama is swept away by Tchaikovsky's lyrical music. Kelly and Lloyd-Roberts were thrilling; I could understand why the opera was worth disinterring.
The short final act is pure grand guignol with flashes of lyrical Tchaikovsky, all at breakneck speed as Tchaikovsky forced Shpazhinsky to compress his final two acts into one. In a wonderfully atmospheric scene, the Princess gets a poison from Mamirov disguised as a local wizard. Here naturalism goes by the board and Fielding's set took on elements of the surrealism of the plot. Kuma is waiting for Yuri as they plan to elope, Evpraksia pretends to be a fellow traveller and gives Kuma a poisoned drink. Kuma dies in Yuri's arms and then a furious Nikita appears. Savenko was tremendous at this point as Nikita in white heat kills Yuri and then surrenders to demons.
This is not an opera for every day. But one of the functions of festivals is to revive operas which we might not see in ordinary repertory. Here Grange Park did Tchaikovsky proud, with a tremendous performance which played to the opera's strengths and minimised its weaknesses. The updating gave it tremendous pace and drama; the team at Grange Park seem to be on their best form in operas with contemporary setting. My only complaint was that neither surtitles nor programme book gave any hint of the opera's original setting and the article in the programme book gave no background at all, it simply discussed the various theories about Tchaikovsky's death.