Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
A Magical Performance In Old Sound
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 06/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Rimsky-Korsakov's 1895 opera "Christmas Eve" is based on the same Gogol short story as Tchaikovsky's Vakula the Smith (Cherivichki), and I feel that Rimsky's is by far the better work. It tells the tale of a Ukrainian blacksmith who falls in love with a village beauty who disdains him, and with the help of the devil he fetches for her a precious pair of slippers from the Tsaritsa. This is music filled with village life, folk characters, and numerous fantasy elements - and it's all quite enchanting.
This 2-CD set from Lyrica is a bare bones production: no story synopsis, no information on the singers, no libretto, with just a list of tracks that indicate which characters are singing. The sound is actually a good deal better than the old 3-LP Ultraphone set I bought second-hand years ago (the latter indicates a recording date of 1948, whereas Lyrica has 1947). And, of course, one of the chief attractions is the opportunity to hear the great Russian conductor Nikolai Golovanov in a complete opera recording. So far as I know, the opera is given complete (I have never heard another recording).
Through old but very listenable sound a first-rate performance is heard here. Golovanov leads a well-shaped and exuberant reading, and the singers are all pretty exceptional. You may have to make some adjustments if you aren't already acquainted with Russian opera singers. As Oksana, the village beauty/shrew, Natalya Shpiller (who also sang in Golovanov's recording of the Mozart Requiem on Arlecchino) has one of those Slavic voices whose high notes may occasionally threaten the paint on your ceiling. But for the most part, she's excellent: secure in pitch, agile, and graceful. The Vakula is sung by Dmitri Tarkhov's heroic tenor in attractive voice (despite some very keenly-honed high notes). All the singing here is well-characterized and sincere (something I don't hear very often on my rare ventures into the opera house these days), and all the supporting roles are well-cast (mezzo Ludmilla Legostayeva, bass Sergei Krasovsky, etc.).
This excellent performance has another unusual distinction provided by its fine singers. On CD 2, track 1 bass Krasovsky interpolates a low C, while in the last scene soprano Shpiller takes a high C sharp. That equals just over four octaves of well-executed singing - a phenomenon I have never heard in any other operatic recording.