OP2253. LE COQ D’OR, recorded 1951, w. Gauk Cond. Alexei Korolev, Nadezhda Kazantseva, Pavel Pontryagin,
Antonina Kleshcheva, Pavel Tchekin, Levon Khachaturov & Sergey Krassovsky; GOLOVANOV Cond.Bolshoi S.O.:
LE COQ D’OR – Symphonic Suite – recorded 1950; Piatigorsky Cond. All-Union Radio Orch., w.Nadezhda Kazantseva & Geörgi Vinogradov: DIE FLEDERMAUS - Duet & Czardas – recorded 1941. (Russia) 2-Aquarius AQVR 350. - 4607123631126
“[This very first studio recording of LE COQ D’OR], made in 1951 is so obscure that, until I saw this set appear on the website of Norbeck, Peters & Ford (norpete.com), I was utterly unaware that it even existed, and I have not turned up any mention of it in a previous discography….Unlike in the West, major recording projects such as sets of complete Russian operas were not undertaken in response to consumer demand or a desire to fill in a gap in recorded repertoire; generally a significant element of state political direction was involved (plus, Stalin fancied himself to be a knowledgeable musical connoisseur). For example, as I noted in a review back in 39:6, it was surely no accident that the only complete opera recording made in the USSR during World War II was of Rimsky-Korsakov’s THE TSAR’S BRIDE; a direct comparison of Josef Stalin to Ivan the Terrible, in terms of the ability of both utterly to eradicate all opposition by diktat, was surely intended. (Historians of Stalin’s era have documented a selective rehabilitation and promotion of Ivan IV for propaganda purposes beginning in 1940.) Whatever prompted the original decision to record THE GOLDEN COCKEREL in 1951 - doubtless some domestic or foreign political target of Stalin was originally in view - I strongly suspect that certain Communist Party apparatchiki feared that the opera could potentially be seen as somehow making a broadly denigrating analogy between Stalin and Tsar Dodon, and distribution was consequently repressed or severely restricted, accounting for the set’s obscurity….In any case, the extreme rarity of this premiere studio recording makes it of prime interest to collectors of historic Russian opera recordings….the recorded sound is surprisingly good for a 1951 Soviet recording - clear and with little surface noise, if a bit harsh and grainy….most of the cast members in the Gauk set, with one painful exception, are good to excellent….The somewhat throaty and strained Pavel Pontryagin is not…magical…though interpretively he is always creditable. As one might expect from her very fine recordings of the title role of Delibes’ LAKMÉ and of Leila in Bizet’s LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES (see Henry Fogel’s two reviews, both in 41:1), Nadezhda Kazantseva is a very fine Tsarina of Shemakha…her interpretive style harkens back to the fin-de-siècle era in favoring production of a pure vocal line over textual pointing. Alexander Gauk is an incisive and energetic presence on the podium…and the chorus and orchestra both respond to his direction with precision and enthusiasm.
The value of this set is enhanced by its bonus material. A 1950 recording, led by the ever mercurial Nikolai Golovanov, presents a 30-minute orchestral suite of four numbers (Tsar Dodon in his palace; Tsar Dodon on the battlefield; Tsar Dodon with the Tsarina of Shemakha; The marriage feast and lamentable end of Tsar Dodon) extracted and synthesized by Alexander Glazunov and the composer’s son-in-law Maximilian Steinberg from the opera. The recorded sound here is similar to that in the complete opera, but a degree more cavernous and less dry; the performance fully captures the work’s mixture of perfumed exoticism and mordant sardonic humor. The two brief excerpts from Johann Strauss II’s evergreen operetta (the duet is misidentified in the booklet as being from act II) are charmingly and stylishly sung with lovely tone and impeccable vocal technique by both soprano and tenor, though their 1941 provenance means that some tell-tale 78rpm acetate surface noise remains….The slender bilingual booklet provides track titles and timings, a brief essay in Russian only, plus photos of five of the singers (again subtitles) and four color illustrations from the designs for the original world premiere production, but no libretto, while the cast information and recording date for the opera are given only on the back tray card….In sum, for the opera this Gauk set is a notable recording but not a first choice, flawed by a miserably bad Cockerel and a fair but less than ideal Astrologer; but its rarity and pioneering status, plus the desirable bonus materials, definitely commend it to collectors of historic Russian opera recordings in general, and to fans of Kazantseva, Gauk, and Golovanov in particular. As noted above, it can be purchased from the venerable and estimable firm of Norbeck, Peters & Ford (norpete.com), from whom in decades past I once acquired some treasured 78rpm discs by my beloved Bruno Walter….”
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
“The main reason Aquarius has rescued this 1951 broadcast from the vaults is for its conductor, Alexander Gauk….a revered teacher whose pupils included Mravinsky, Melik-Pashaev and Svetlanov….this COCKEREL is thought to be his only complete operatic recording….Gauk is a warmly sensitive accompanist, seeming to make his orchestra breathe with the singers who never need to force their tone to get the text across. And what singers they are….Alexey Korolev sings with wounded dignity, making a plausible case for the buffonish monarch….The doyen of Russian character tenors, Pavel Pontryagin, conveys…a bizarre and capricious old wizard…faithfully observing the notation and resorting to only one high E falsetto….Antonina Kleshcheva’s Amelfa is warmly maternal without sacrificing beauty of line, her lullaby a point of blessed repose….Nadezhda Kazantseva [has] a distinctively intimate lyric coloratura of ironclad security….Glière wrote his wordless Concerto for Coloratura for Kazantseva, and part of her allure is a disturbing sense of an instrument almost independent of a body. This cool Queen seems beyond morality, almost beyond humanity….the strongest recommendation for a marvelous discovery.”
- Christopher Webber, OPERA, May, 2012
“Nadezhda Kazantseva made her début at age 17 and was engaged by the Bolshoi Opera in 1932. She became an instant success in lyric and coloratura soprano rôles, such as Lakmé, Gilda & Violetta. She was named a People’s Artist of the USSR in 1950.
- VRCS Program Notes, 1992 LP issue