Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Christmas Eve
Georgy Vasiliev (Vakula), Julia Muzychenko (Oksana), Enkelejda Shkoza (Solokah, Woman with a violet nose), Alexey Tikhomirov (Chub), Andrei Popov (Devil), Anthony Robin Schneider (Panas), Sebastian Geyer (The Mayor), Peter Marsh (Deacon), Bianca Andrew (Tsarina), Thomas Faulkner (Patsyuk), Barbara Zechmeister (Woman with normal nose), Aylet Polne, Gorka Culebras, Pascu Ortí, Clara Cozzolino, Haizam Fati, Paola Ghidini, Guillaume Rabain, Nicky Van Cleef, Mário Branco (Dancers), Chorus of the Oper Frankfurt, Michael Tilman (Chorus Master), the Frankfurt Opern- und Museumorchester, Sebastian Weigle (Conductor), Christof Loy (Stage Director), Johannes Leiacker (Set Designer), Ursula Renzenbrink (Costume Designer), Olaf Winter (Lighting Designer), Klevis Elmazaj (Choreographer), Maximilian Enderle (Dramaturge), Myriam Hoyer (Film Director)
Recording: Oper Frankfurt (December 17, 19, 2021 & January 8, 2022) – 153’
Naxos of America DVD 2110738 (or Blu ray NBD 0154V) – HD 16.9 – DTS Master Audio – Region A, B, C – Sung in Russian – Subtitles in English, German, French, Japanese, Korean – Booklet in German & English
If audio recordings of Rimsky‑Korsakov’s Christmas Eve’s orchestral suite are numerous, in contrast, the opera itself has been neglected by recording and opera companies. Except for the audio CD by the Russian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Nikolai Golovanov (1948) and the Chant du monde recording by the Moscow Forum Orchestra under Michail Jurowski (1990), that was about all until this first video capture of Oper Frankfurt’s production in 2022. Almost never performed outside Russia, the English National Opera, however, staged it in 1980, and it was sung in English.
Composed using his own libretto, Rimsky‑Korsakov created this magical opera based on Gogol’s short story The Night Before Christmas. It premiered in 1895 at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. The play narrates the story of Vakula, a handsome blacksmith who wants to marry the rich farmer’s daughter Oksana, who, in turn, demands that he must bring her the Tsarina’s shoes. Meanwhile, a witch on her broomstick gathers the stars, and the Devil steals the moon – demonic forces trying to hinder this romantic union. Enchantment and enlightenment come together to bring a happy ending to this miraculous journey.
Direction by Christof Loy, conceived as a voyage through time, is dynamic and fast‑paced. From contemporary, colorful costumes to historical outfits from the era of Catherine the Great in Act III, the spectator spirals into fantastical elements, a starry sky, with persistent cosmic dimension in which characters never lose their humanity. This staging admirably reflects Rimsky‑Korsakov’s pantheistic vision of the world in which nature and the cosmos have a soul and are constantly related to human beings.
The singing cast, mostly Russian, performs with vitality and distinction. Georgy Vasiliev in Vakula has a ringing high tenor but lacks a bit of acting talent, whereas soprano Julia Muzychenko as Oksana is dramatically convincing, flirtatious, and seductive. Bianca Andrew is suitably regal in the small part of the Tsarina, while Andrei Popov’s dark tenor is ideal for the part of the Devil. Conducting by Sebastian Weigle is tonic; it remarkably befits the rapid tempo of the piece. The various colors of this truly magnetic score – from surreal to fantastic, to comedic and burlesque – are painted with inviting warmth.
This stimulating production by the Frankfort Opera is an essential milestone in the history of this work. It is the first time Rimsky‑Korsakov’s Christmas Eve was captured on video.