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Prokofiev's 'Ivan the Terrible' -
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'Vello Pähn and the orchestra make a marvellous thing of Prokofiev's score ...'

Prokofiev/Grigorovich: Ivan the Terrible. © 2004 Opera National de Paris, CLC Productions

In my personal experience, Russia's Ivan IV has been the cause of surprise rather than terror. I was enchanted to find a CD of music by him when I called in at the Russian monastery on the holy promontory of Athos. And now I can watch him dancing much of his history at the Paris Opera. We should not forget, though, that Stalin was particularly fond of him, admiring his iron government, effective repulsion of foreign threats, and above all his organisation of a ruthless secret police. The most public of his monuments remains the riotous architecture of the multi-coloured cathedral on Red Square dedicated to St Basil the Fool, which Stalin thought of blowing up.

Nicolas Le Riche as Ivan IV (Act 1 Tableau 3). DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris
Nicolas Le Riche as Ivan IV (Act 1 Tableau 3). DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris

Prokofiev's magnificent music was written for Eisenstein's films on Ivan. A series of three was originally projected, and two were made. Stalin liked the first but not the second, which dealt with Ivan's disintegration after the death of his beloved first wife Anastasia Romanova, when court life became increasingly bawdy, and there was a succession of six further wives including negotiations for a cousin of our dear Elizabeth I. According to our ambassador, no more discreet than some of his successors, Ivan boasted of 'a thousand virgins he had deflowered' and died at a game of chess, when he could not make his king stand upright.

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Copyright © 2 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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