Music: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Director: John Fulljames
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Opera North is staging for the first time Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden and is part of the company’s fairy tale season this winter. The Russian opera premiered in 1882 and was revised in 1898, and is based on Snegurochka, a Russian folk tale. It follows the story of the Snow Maiden (Aoife Miskelly) who has been raised in wintery and icy environs by her Father Frost (James Creswell) and mother Spring Beauty (Yvonne Howard). She yearns to love and to be loved and so pleads with her parents to allow her to live in the nearby village. But with a heart made of ice, this comes at a high price, for love will melt her heart and she will die. Witnessing love and yearning for true happiness with a boy, Lel (Heather Lowe), Snow Maiden is hurt and requests Spring Beauty to give her the ability to feel passion, with tragic consequences.
John Fulljames’ production focuses on Snow Maiden and her relationship with the fantastical mythical and the contemporary real world. There is the representation of seasons of both winter and spring; its contrasting effects and it subordinates people and society. This is reflected in the Snow Maiden’s costume with a crown representing her homeworld, and a work uniform as her attempt to integrate with the community. The opera is aided by the use of a virtual calendar and clever projections of a kaleidoscope of Tsar, Soviet and modern Russia periods, reflecting the universal telling of the folklore. Today, Snow Maiden is a seasonal key character along with Old Man Frost for New Year celebrations in Russia. The changes of seasons are important to the global population whether literally or metaphorically. Fulljames successfully interprets this opera with innovative and imaginative animation, video imagery and eclectic staging, courtesy of Will Duke and Giles Cadle.
Rimsky-Korsakov, under the direction of Leo McFall, composed an imaginative and colourful musical score which portrays nature, the change of seasons, and Russian folk melodies. The arias and choruses, such as the popular Dance Of The Tumblers, link to the characters and how nature, customs and seasons dictate their fates. Highlights include the prologue’s arias from Spring Beauty (Howard) and Father Frost (Creswell) which set the tone for the opera, the choruses about the seasons from the company’s choruses including the upbeat Hymn to Sun-God in stark contrast to Snow Maiden’s (Miskelly) poignant aria, Melt at the end of Act 4.
Opera North has successfully staged The Snow Maiden with a stellar performance from the talented company, some making their debut. The innovative and imaginative staging enriched with traditional and contemporary costumes accurately reflects the changing of seasons linking to the supernatural, mythology, paganism and folklore in the opera. Key romantic themes are featured, including love, desire, obsession and heartbreak; all seasonally linked. Snow Maiden is an excellent production and one that should be considered as a winter treat for all opera lovers.
Touring Nationwide until 24 March 2017 | Image: Contributed