Prince Igor was the opera I was perhaps looking forward to the most this season, if only because as a figure skating fan, I was interested in hearing the Polovtsian Dances in context. On the other hand, like most people who know only that piece of music, at least by its original name(other pieces of music from the opera have also been appropriated into other things though), I didn’t know much about the opera itself. Which might have been just as well, since the Met production broadcast yesterday was actually a whole new approach to what at the time of composer Alexander Borodin’s death was a collection of pieces of an opera-in-progress he never properly put together, discarding must of the music his colleagues had composed to create the original full opera, and staged to suit modern ideals, delivering a strong anti-war message on a day when Russia’s current leader declares his intention to invade the Ukraine-a coincidence of timing, or perhaps just an indication that noone ever learns from the mistakes of the past. Either way, it increases the opera’s power.
The biggest problem with purifying the opera in this way, perhaps, is that it leaves all the gaps which Borodin didn’t get around to filling. As a narrative arc, what was put together works well enough. It is left ambiguous what happened to Igor after his defeat, since in between the march off to battle and his return to his ruined city, all we see involving him is told in hallucination and flashback, with the famed Polovtsian Dances where the Khan’s slaves sing tribute to him turned almost into a nightmare sequence, and you have at least briefly wonder if his son really defected for love, or was simply killed in battle and hallucinated by his father. Whether this a good thing or not, I suppose, depends on whether one likes having their mind screwed with. But one undisputedly bad result of this is Prince Igor isn’t the biggest presence in his own opera-lead Ildar Abdrazakov is great when he’s signing, but you have to wait some time for that. Meanwhile, the main character almost becomes his wife Yaroslavna, sung by Ukrainian met debutante Oksana Dyka. Not entirely inappropriate to have her lamenting the consequences of the war, though, on this particular day. It helps too that she’s really good. The production does it’s best to fill some of the gaps with projected image of the battle, and Abdrazakov in the end rejecting the grand welcome back chorus from his people in favor of leading off a clean-up of the stage.
Also the production previewed next season broadcast schedule, when much of the cast from yesterday will be featured, including Abdrazakov headlining Marriage of Figaro, and Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci with Marcelo Alvarez singing the lead in both. Those ought to good. Sadly, Dyka’s next doing Aida, which they will not try to broadcast again.