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Mazepa

Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
Welsh National Opera
Mayflower, Southampton, and touring
(2006)

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How puzzling thatTchaikovsky’s second opera, Mazepa, first performed only five years after Eugene Onegin, should be so rarely seen today.

Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser‘s production for Welsh National Opera moves the Ukranian struggle for independence from its 18th century setting to modern times, the setting and costumes serving to emphasise the personal bitterness of the struggle between rival families over the hand of the young Mariya, here sung by the young Muscovite Tatiana Monagarova.

Mazepa, the veteran Cossack leader, a striking performance by baritone Robert Hayward, silver-haired, erect and ruthless, is set on marrying Mariya his god-daughter and when her father, Kossack leader Kochubai refuses point blank on account of the suitor’s age, the stage is set for terminal struggle.

Kochobai, massive both in physique and voice, is sung by the Israeli bass Gidon Saks whose anger atthe venerable old man’s nerve is never in doubt.

Mariya’s preferred suitor Andrei is sung with much passion by the American tenor Hugh Smith.

Christian Fenouillait’s austere settings are impressive enough but the contemporary atmosphere does little for the grandeur of a good old historical tale of political intrigue

Alas, Andrei’s brave offer to approach Peter the Great to inform him of Mazepa’s secret plan to co-operate with the Swedes in securing Ukrainian independence is doomed to failure as the emperor refuses to believe him.

Kochubai’s stirring resistance while imprisoned by Mazepa brings some rare bass singing from Saks while the discovery that her father is to be executed reduces Mariya to madness.

In the final moving scene, Andrei, mortally wounded by the defeated Mazapa, is comforted by the deranged Mariya who, sings a beautiful lullaby as he dies in her arms.

The conductor is the Russian Alexander Polianichko.

The production visits Plymouth Theatre Royal (Saturday 24 June), Oxford New Theatre (Saturday 1 July), Bristol Hippodrome (Saturday 8 July) and Llandudno's North Wales Theatre (Saturday 15 July).

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole