Iolanta - LPO / Jurowski - Royal Festival Hall, 25 October 2008
How many conductors can tether their hair in a Queen Victoria bun and still look cool? How many would even try? How many have enough hair, come to that? In Vladimir Jurowski's case, it simply adds to his swami-like aura of inscrutability. Sigh. A few dirty looks were directed at the women who yelled "I love you!" as he left the stage, but I understand.
Since Opera Holland Park tackled it this summer, Iolanta has been growing on me. It has its draggy bits and its derivative bits, and any story about a blind princess who gains sight through the power of love and self-awareness is undeniably on the silly side. But there are moments of real invention, starting with the rugged chromaticism of the overture, and it builds into a compelling whole. (There's a 1955 Russian recording available on last.fm - not exactly brilliant, but at least it's free).
Part of Jurowski's Revealing Tchaikovsky series, this concert performance of Iolanta was staffed mostly by well-drilled Russian imports. Not only did all but one do their stuff without a score, but they even managed a little stage business in the postage-stamp space between the violins and the podium.
Jurowski's balletically airy reading took time to warm up. But it eventually touched the heart with King Rene's arioso. Sergei Aleksashkin's noble, timeworn bass was so committed it deserved nothing less than complete attention.
The tenor Yevgeny Shapovalov as Iolanta's suitor Count Vaudemont had a mixed night, hitting his first top Bflat in falsetto, but he went for bust after that, with a heroic ring and bags of passion.
Tatiana Monogarova was appealing but a little chilly in the title role - I was more impressed by the sprightly and silvery Ekaterina Lekhina in the much smaller part of Brigitta.
Rodion Pogossov's delivery of Robert's aria almost inevitably suffered in comparison to Hvorostovsky's magnificent encore, still fresh in the mind from last week, but like Alexandra Durseneva (Martha), Maxim Mikhailov (Bertrand) and Vyacheslav Pochapsky (Ibn-Hakia), his performance was committed and hard to criticise.
The only (minor) disappointment was the small Moscow Conservatory Chamber Choir, whose sound simply didn't carry to where I was sitting - whether this is down to them or to the horrendous acoustics of the Royal Festival Hall is hard to tell.
Jurowski's lean, mean Tchaikovsky clearly has some appeal. Despite the relative unfamiliarity of the work and the soloists, there was a pretty good turnout for this. I wonder if the 2 for 1 ticket offer helped?
Here Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon tackle Iolanta and Robert's duet: