CAST: Sobakin: Gennady Bezzubenkov, Marfa Sobakina: Marina Shaguch, Grigory Gryaznoy: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Malyuta-Scuratov: Sergei Alexashin, Lykov: Evgeny Akimov, Lyubasha: Olga Borodina, Bomelius: Nikolay Gassiev, Saburova: Irina Loskuova, Dunyasha: Olga Markova-Mikhailenko, Petrovna: Lyubov Solokova
Kirov Chorus and Orchestra, St. Petersburg
Chorus master: Valery Borisov
Valery Gergiev, conductor
The Tsar’s Bride tells the fancy story of the third wife of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, Marfa Sobakina, which in historical reality died of a mysterious illness only two weeks after her wedding. The tsar suspected that she had been poisoned and, although some sources claim that in fact Marfa was already sick before her marriage, this is the version followed also in the opera. Obviously, it is a love rival who poisoned Marfa.
The present recording of The Tsar’s Bride is certainly one of the best on the market, although for some people it does not equal the one featuring Galina Vishnevskaya in the title role. Here is Marina Shaguch as the delicate Marfa and it must be said that, despite her timbre is not beautiful, especially in the high notes, and that she does not demonstrate particular charism, she is able to express the dreamer side of the character in her first aria and, later, her submission and despair. The best singers of the recording are the excellent Dmitry Hvorostovsky as Grigory Gryaznoy, who knows how to give the character a wide variety of feelings, and most of all the extraordinary Olga Borodina (as Marfa’s rival, Lyubasha), who creates a well-rounded character, emphasizing both the sentimental and revengeful side of the deserted woman. I remember with pleasure her sad and beautiful unaccompanied aria, where she is really moving, and the duet with Gryaznoy (both in the first act); the latter, in particular, represents the synthesis of the best qualities of both singers. Less pleasant is Nikolay Gassiev as Bomelius, who is not always musically accurate, while the rest of the cast is absolutely pleasing.
As for the direction of Valery Gergiev, I think it is one of the best I have heard so far, particularly when I think of the first Soviet incisions (in the Forties and in the Fifties), but also to more recent ones, because nowhere I found the same spirit and subtlety I found here.