This co-production of the Bolshoi Theatre (the word translates as “Great”) and Pentatone brings a sampling of the typical opera-goers’ experience in one of the great world centers of opera. And in exemplary surround sonics instead of the awful sound of Soviet-ear recordings or the so-so sound of many more recent Russian efforts. The opening of the original Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1825 coincides with the birth of the national Russian opera. The Bolshoi today develops great traditions in a modern spirit. There are two stages where 500 performances are held each season, seating an audience of 3000 every evening. The best performers, directors, choreographers and conductors are retained for Bolshoi productions.
Bass voices have always been a strong focus of Russian opera, and the highlights program opens with two bass arias from Glinka’s A Life for the Czar. Dargomyszki’s Rusalka, seldom heard in the West, is next with a pair of arias featuring both tenor and bass soloists plus a male chorus. Three Tchaikovsky operas are excerpted with an aria from each: Iolanthe, Queen of Spades, and Mazeppa. The arioso from the latter is sung by baritone Yuri Nechaev; it was new to me and quite lovely. The selection from Rachmaninov’s Aleko is translated The magic power of song and again features a basso with male chorus. The familiar tunes of Borodin’s Prince Igor provide the final four selections on the SACD. The soloists are baritone and bass with chorus. The last selection is one of the most energetic and dramatic versions of the orchestral Polovtsian Dances I’ve ever heard – making a grand audiophile wrap up to an interesting survey of the Bolshoi Experience. The acoustics of the huge venue are excellent and the 5.0 surround recreates them with much realism. (I was in the hall many years ago. I recall how spectacular the special effects were in ballets and operas with battles, fires, etc.)
– John Sunier