Tchaikovsky’s last opera, written in 1891, is a work you can love deeply while knowing it really isn’t the greatest piece. Even the composer felt it was basically a rehash of earlier work, but it has an atmosphere all its own, and though not a great deal happens, the heroine is treasurable and there is much really gorgeous writing.
Anna Netrebko wants to make it better known in the West and the result is this record of a concert tour made with Emmanuel Villaume and the Slovenian Philharmonic. It starts well, the rather constipated wind intro melting into lilting Schubertian strings that fix the score’s sweet longing. Netrebko starts beautifully too, low down with the softest grain to the voice, and this intimate mode works well. It’s when something more passionate is wanted that things fall short, with even Netrebko herself sounding strained at times. The other singers are pretty good – the lyrical Vitalij Kowalyow as René, Lucas Meachem a velvety Ibn Hakia, Sergey Skorokhodov’s beautifully smooth, masculine tenor Vaudémont full of romantic ardour – but the ensemble tends to get soupy and Villaume, for all the nice textures, cannot heat up his orchestra enough for the indulgent passion this work demands.