OP1825. IVAN THE TERRIBLE (The Maid of Pskov) (Rimsky-Korsakov), recorded 1947, w.Sakarov Cond. Bolshoi Theatre Ensemble; Alexander Pirogov, Elisabeta Shumilova, Georgi Nelepp, Alexander Peregudov, etc. (Russia) 2-Aquarius AQVR 333. - 4607123630822
“The received view of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas is that they are essentially for Russian consumption only, placed beyond the scope of a wider audience by complex questions of language, legend and arcane tradition. This recording, however, underline[s] the fact that, on a musical level and in terms of dramatic impact, Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas reach beyond national boundaries, whether performed in Russian (as here) or not. On a purely geographical point, there is no reason why we should need a detailed knowledge of north-western Russia simply because the maid happens to come from Pskov, any more than we need a gazetteer of Spain to prepare for IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA or, indeed, one of Merseyside for EMILIA DI LIVERPOOL.
The themes on which Rimsky-Korsakov touches in his stage works – love, loyalty, remorse, death and so on – are scarcely peculiar to Russia, but his art was to place them musically in an unmistakably Russian context and to create in his operas a rich tapestry of national colouring. That he devised diverse ways of doing so is demonstrated in these four scores spanning, as chance would have it, almost the whole of his creative life. THE MAID OF PSKOV, Rimsky’s remarkable and dramatically astute first opera, has points of contact with Mussorgsky’s BORIS GODUNOV. This is no mere accident, for both composers, sharing common creative ideals, were writing their operas at the same time, in the same flat and at the same desk. Both operas have a vivid backdrop of Russian history; each centres on a Russian Tsar, Boris in the Mussorgsky, Ivan the Terrible in the Rimsky. Neither BORIS GODUNOV nor IVAN THE TERRIBLE had an exactly unblemished record in human rights, but both operas incorporate revelatory passages of soul-searching, which hint at a more humane side to their characters and at the same time establish in the operas’ developing plots a crucial moment of reflection.
In THE MAID OF PSKOV, Ivan, although his first appearance in Act II triggers understandable apprehension, is dissuaded from ravaging rebellious Pskov when he realises that Princess Olga (the maid of the title and ward of the ruling Prince Yuri Tokmakov) is his own daughter from an earlier dalliance with one Vera Sheloga. At this juncture, The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga comes into play. Ever the self-critic, Rimsky-Korsakov made no fewer than three versions of THE MAID OF PSKOV. The second one is preceded by a prologue, explaining how Olga came to be born. In the definitive, third edition (recorded here) Rimsky lets the information slip in gossip and overheard conversation: this is a much more subtle manoeuvre, posing, from the point of view of comprehension, no more problems than we have, say, in IL TROVATORE. The explanatory prologue was shorn off and made into the separate one-acter THE NOBLEWOMAN VERA SHELOGA. Rimsky-Korsakov, like Mussorgsky in BORIS GODUNOV, aimed to reflect in the music of THE MAID OF PSKOV the natural contours and inflections of speech, its varieties of pace and, in a notable example in Act I, the cross-cutting and confusion of argument. In 1896, Fyodor Chaliapin debuted in the role of Ivan the Terrible at the Russian Private Opera. Due to Chaliapin THE MAID OF PSKOV was noticed by the Direction of Imperial Theatres. First it was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre (November 10, 1901), with Chaliapin as Ivan the Terrible, and then at the Mariinsky Theatre (in 1903). In 1909, THE MAID OF PSKOV was introduced to the European audience by Sergei Diaghilev.”
- BBC Music Magazine
“In the four decades after the departure of Feodor Chaliapin in 1919, two Russian basses dominated the stage at Moscow's mighty Bolshoi: Mark Reizen, tall and elegant, whose magnificent instrument had a Slavic edge somewhat softer than most, had but one rival. Alexander Pirogov, commanding and powerful, owned a voice blacker in timbre, less smooth, but arresting in its impact and guided by theatrical instincts of overwhelming authority. Although stories abound of their dislike for each other, their presence assured the theater's primacy in having bass singers perfectly suited to the many great bass roles that give Russian opera its special tang.
Pirogov…was engaged by the Zimin Free Opera in Moscow where, in two years time (1922 - 1924), he learned his craft and gained familiarity with several leading roles. In 1924, Pirogov was invited to join the Bolshoi. Soon he was heard as Gremin, Ivan Susanin, the Old Miller, Russlan, and Ivan the Terrible from the Russian repertory, in addition to such leading characters in Western opera as Don Basilio and Méphistophélès. He reportedly learned last-named in just two weeks. In 1929, Pirogov was honored by being assigned the title role in BORIS GODUNOV; thereafter he was known as an unsurpassed interpreter of this mightiest of all Russian protagonists.
Establishing a reputation for hard work and meticulous attention to detail, Pirogov continued to sharpen and refine his interpretations. He arrived at the theater early, applying his makeup and stepping into costume long before he was summoned to the stage. Although many stories suggest an imperious presence in his personal affairs, others paint another portrait, revealing a friendly and outgoing approach toward his colleagues. Although he retired from the Bolshoi in 1954, Pirogov was the choice for Boris when the opera was filmed in 1955. He had already been awarded the Stalin Prize for his performance of the role and accompanied the film to Venice for the international film festival held there. Although the film was not a prizewinner, the Italian film academy struck a special medal to honor the singer.
After 1954, Pirogov spent most of his time in his native city, traveling to Moscow only for occasional appearances on-stage and in concert. When the Bolshoi was invited to La Scala in 1964, Pirogov was selected to sing Boris. However, after fishing in his beloved Oka River on a particularly hot day in late June, he returned home and retired for a nap. Awakening with chest pains in the middle of the night, he sent his son for a doctor, but by the time the physician arrived, the bass was already dead. Thus, Pirogov was denied the possibility of one final triumph.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“The Bolshoi had a remarkable dramatic tenor, Georgi Mikhailovich Nelepp, an artist of impeccable taste, with a beautiful, youthfully resonant voice. I have yet to hear a better Hermann in THE QUEEN OF SPADES. When I first joined the Bolshoi, we worked on FIDELIO together; that time ranks among the best memories of my career.”
- Galina Vishnevskaya, GALINA, pp.185-86
“Elena Shumilova’s creative career is inextricably linked with the history of the Bolshoi Theatre during the middle of the last century. One of Elena Shumilova’s most outstanding roles at the Bolshoi Theatre was in the role of Olga in Rimsky-Korsakov’s THE MAID OF PSKOV. The image of Olga, as performed by Elena Shumilova, has since entered the treasury of the performing arts thanks to the magnificent recording of THE MAID OF PSKOV, made by the All-Union Radio foundation in 1947. It was Shumilova’s first major radio performance. It is noteworthy to mention that when two years later, in 1949, a radio recording of large extended scenes from THE MAID OF PSKOV was made, Elena Shumilova was again invited to sing Olga’s part with Mark Reizen taking on the role of Ivan."
- Mike Weston