Now, IFO has watched two more versions of the opera, following the new Met production. We presented the second one in yesterday’s post, filmed in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre by a French company of a performance of just a couple of years ago.
Today, we’re posting a 1990 performance from Covent Garden in the UK. The differences in presentation say much about world politics over the years and through the different cultures.
Religion – the Met production had virtually no religious symbols. The Russian one had some, including an Eastern Orthodox priest sprinkling holy water on the people. The British one had lots and lots of religious iconography and people crossing themselves.
And here’s something different by the British – a desert guy who helped Prince Igor escape was a Christian. In the other productions there was no real explanation for why he helped with the escape.
Women – treatment of women was depicted more and more brutally from mild in the US, to cruel in Russia to total depravity by Russians in the British production. The Polovtsians came out a bit better in the British production, but there was a LOT of nudity.
Mothers apparently disappear into the wallpaper in Russia. The Khan’s daughter, Konchakovna, had no mother present. The Prince’s wife, Yaroslavna, had no apparent interest in her son.
Villains – all productions agreed that Prince Galitsky was a drunken, power-mad villain, but they were conflicted about the the Khan. In the Moscow production, the Khan Konchak had a weird little smile that came and went like a tic, giving him a crazed look. The Met made him look virile and honest, kind of like Yul Brynner.
The British made him look like a strongman, a mix of Chinese, Persian, Turkish and Arab wearing a half-moon amulet on a chain around his neck. Kind of a good-time Muslim. Far more fearsome in the British production.
East v. West – Warm dry Steppes / desert v. dark, cold, hard North. Sinewy, silken, snaky music and dance by women, active virile and cruel activities by men v. bureaucratic pronouncements, women’s calls for Divine and Princely assistance, deep male choral pieces. Both sides had drunken orgies, but the Northern ones were more violent and disgusting in all the productions.
Family – the Khan’s daughter, who eventually married Prince Igor’s son against Igor’s wishes but with the Khan’s blessing, was great in all productions, but best in the British one – Elena Zaremba, who is still performing all over the world. She was last at the Met this year in Eugene Onegin, playing the mother of the heroine, we think. Twenty years earlier she had played the daughter.
Princess Yaroslava seemed to be in a dream in all of the productions, but her importance was revealed in Moscow, when she appeared to represent Mother Russia looking much like a Russian icon of the Blessed Virgin. None of them paid much attention to anyone but the Prince.
The Russians had entered the Iron Age in all of the productions with metal helmets, huge rectangular shields and swords, the desert people had small round shields, bows and arrows (only in the lyrics of the Met production, which had placed the action in a fictional 19th or 20th century)and scimitars.
Yet the Russians lost the battles. Remember that.
Everyone greeted the returning wounded Prince with joy, as did the people, in spite of the fact that the Prince lost a whole army. Remember that.
The only time freedom is mentioned is in the Polovtsian (foreigners) scenes. Remember that.