Composer: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Director: John Fulljames
Conductor Leo McFall
Designer: Giles Cadle
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is something of a collector’s item. Although it is a winter favourite in Russia it has not been performed in the UK for over sixty years. Director John Fulljames shows no sign of being daunted by such a significant event and offers a tremendously moving production that is not afraid to draw out the darker consequences of repressing passion.
A one-off romantic union between The Spring Beauty ( Yvonne Howard) and Father Frost ( James Creswell) results in the birth of The Snow Maiden ( Aoife Miskelly). As she enters adolescence the child becomes fascinated by music and her parents reluctantly agree to allow her to spend time among mortals. But The Snow Maiden is a mass of contradictions – drawn to love but emotionally repressed and unable to express her feelings. This may be a blessing is disguise as, were she ever to experience passion, The Snow Maiden’s heart would melt.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s crashing score brings to mind a tempest in full blast so Fulljames creates a mood of a community struggling against the elements. Set designer Giles Cadle frames the action behind an opaque screen upon which images of encroaching winter or dark forests are projected suggesting that the community is constantly beset by nature.
while the score catches the full passion of people consumed by love the opera does not glorify the emotion. It takes place in a grim sweatshop and Matthew Haskin’s stark lighting sets a background of permanent twilight where the sun never shines. Lel ( Heather Lowe), the object of the Snow Maiden’s affection, is a baby-faced roué jaded before his time and remorselessly seducing anyone a skirt. Far from being a symbol of the life force Kupava ( Elin Pritchard ) is a randy flirt who drowns her disappointments in vodka.
There are some gloriously off the wall moments with unfaithful lover Mizgir ( Phillip Rhodes) being unceremoniously gagged with gaffer tape and responding in a kinky manner by choosing to remain so restrained for much of the opera.
These days any female character who sings in an icy setting brings to mind Disney’s Frozen. Actually the cartoon character who Aoife Miskelly most resembles is Bambi. Miskelly has an otherworld quality – standing at the side away from the rest of the cast and observing them through startled doe-eyes .Her soaring vocals simply add to the impression that she is a supernatural creature.
Audiences with even a slight interest in opera should seek out Opera North’s production of The Snow Maiden. After all it could be decades before you get another chance.
Reviewed on 10 March 2017 | Photo: Richard Hubert Smith