I must confess, though I knew of The Snow Maiden as a fairy tale, I did not know it was an opera, especially an opera written by Rimsky-Korsakov.
For those not familiar with the story, The Snow Maiden is based on the Russian folk tale Snegurochka (Sneg meaning snow) about a maiden who has been raised in the icy winter grip of her father, Grandfather Frost, and mother, Spring Beauty, and longs to live with the mortals in the village nearby. She yearns to experience their human emotions, and begs her parents to let her join them.
In the village, she becomes entangled emotionally, but having a heart of ice, does not have the capacity to fall in love.
Eventually, seeing the love between the shepherd with whom she has been fascinated and another girl, Snegurochka becomes upset and implores her mother to allow her to feel this same passion whatever the cost. Her wish is granted but with dire results. On falling in love, Frost’s winter spell is broken and in a ray of sunlight, Snow Maiden melts away.
I was impressed with every soloist in this opera. There was not a weak link. They all sang confidently in every part of their range and displayed realistic acting skills which cannot always be said of an opera performer. However, there are two soloists who deserve special mentions.
The title role of The Snow Maiden was sung by Aida Garifullina. This 29-year-old soprano had the whole package. Not only was she visually striking and a perfect age for the role, her singing was spectacular! She possessed the ability to make the difficult look easy. She is also an accomplished actor and the closeups of her facial expressions during the emotional scenes were a lesson for all actors. Her ‘less is more’ approach to acting is normally only seen in dramatic actors.
The role of Lel, the shepherd, is normally sung by a mezzo soprano. The director wisely decided to change this to a counter tenor. Yuriy Mynenko’s voice was flawless and his aloofness to Snegurochka was well managed. I was not a fan, however of his long blonde wig though, making him look a little like Fabio.
The orchestra was a highlight managing Rimsky-Korsakov’s score brilliantly. The set with its moving trees was also a highlight.
There was one fault for me. The director chose to set this fairy tale opera in a realistic everyday setting. The mixture of traditional and modern costumes jarred for me and did not allow some of the lyrics to make sense. I did not understand the reason for setting the prologue in a ballet school, there was no apparent reason. The rest of the opera set in a forest fared better.
If you have never seen a Russian opera, be prepared for a long night at about 4 hours! However, the music is enchanting, stirring and poignant. The Snow Maiden is a fairy tale with a difference!
Reviewed by Barry Hill
Rating out of 10: 9
The Snow Maiden will screen again on 14 June 2017 as part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting The Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra national de Paris – exclusive to the Palace Nova Eastend cinemas.