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Stalin is directly responsible for this ballet. Eisenstein's second film was not shown publicly till 1958, when he, Prokofiev and Stalin were all dead. Hence Prokofiev never reworked the music into orchestral suite or cantata, as he had done in the case of Alexander Nevsky. Such an attempt was made by A Stasevich in 1961, and then fourteen years later came the ballet by Yuri Grigorovich, who has also survived to supervise this production. Ivan became undisputed tsar at the age of seventeen, and the first scene represents his coronation. Aloft are the Kremlin bells ready to peal their congratulations, even if the balletic ringers inevitably get the ropes tangled. Almost at once the boyars display both loyalty and disaffection [listen -- 'Ivan and the Boyars' (Act 1 Tableau 2), DVD chapter 2, 0:58-1:55].

Bells ring to call the people to assemble (Act 1 Tableau 1). DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris
Bells ring to call the people to assemble (Act 1 Tableau 1). DVD screenshot © 2004 Opéra National de Paris

As Ivan, Nicholas Le Riche could not be more impressive. Within the sumptuous gloom of the sets he is commanding in presence, riveting in his every movement. He can brood with the best of us as he surveys from his lofty throne the crowd of virgins paraded for his inspection. His tender choice of Eleonora Abbagnato's Anastasia first brought the Romanovs into historical prominence [listen -- 'Meeting between Ivan and Anastasia' (Act 1 Tableau 3), DVD chapter 3, 0:00-1:09]. If the reign degenerated into psychosis and madness, it was, in the words of a distinguished historian, 'the madness of genius'. This Le Riche manages somehow to convey even in his more terrible outbursts [listen -- 'The tsar in rage' (Act 1 Tableau 9), DVD chapter 9, 1:22-2:35].

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Copyright © 2 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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