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The palace is put together in a riot of visual effects, both wondrous and distracting. It is very important to distinguish at once between the nightingale and the cook, who meanders along the palace terraces apparently miles from any kitchen. Marie McLaughlin sings the part with the assurance that suggests a large subordinate staff [watch and listen -- chapter 2, 17:10-18:58]. Her distinctive dress has a convenient brown strip down each lapel. The nightingale, by contrast, might be a little brown bird winging its way from branch to branch or Natalie Dessay in virginal white. Either way she sings her exacting part with virtuoso precision; and Albert Schagidullin's emperor, a commanding figure, is duly impressed [watch and listen -- chapter 3, 36:00-37:14].

Natalie Dessay as the nightingale. Screenshot © 2005 Agat Films & Cie/ ARTE France / Mikros image
Natalie Dessay as the nightingale. Screenshot © 2005 Agat Films & Cie/ ARTE France / Mikros image

It is appropriate, I suppose, that Violeta Urmana as Death should apparently be a chain smoker as she leans nonchalantly against a palace balustrade. Her aim ought to be the demise of the emperor, but the nightingale sings her heart out both for our mutual pleasure but also to secure the emperor's recovery [watch and listen -- chapter 3, 39:35-40:35]. Her task done, the nightingale has had enough of court life and takes her leave for the fisherman's company (so Stravinsky thought) but to the evident distress of the emperor, whose cloistered existence in Chaudet's forbidden city can rarely have been so wondrously and musically beguiled [watch and listen -- chapter 3, 43:24-44:55].

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Copyright © 30 November 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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