Bolshoi Theater Orchestra / Andrey Chistiakov

Alexander Dargomïzhsky: The Stone Guest

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Alexander Dargomïzhsky left his final opera, The Stone Guest, unfinished at his death in 1869 and it was completed by César Cui and orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov (who also performed the same kind of smoothing out of Dargomïzhsky's musical idiosyncrasies that he later applied to Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov). It's an opera that's known more for its historical significance than as an actual repertoire piece. Dargomïzhsky's style in this work sounds more cosmopolitan than specifically Russian, and because it's a setting of the Don Juan story, its color is frequently Spanish. It was considered a revolutionary piece in its time, though, because of the composer's astute and idiomatic setting of the Russian language, using a kind of lyrical, declamatory arioso rather than recitatives and arias, which proved to be particularly influential for later Russian composers. It's an attractive piece but not one with enough spectacular merits to propel it into the repertoire. The composer might be considered audacious for choosing a topic already used for one of the greatest operas ever written, but the Pushkin drama on which this opera is based has a decidedly different perspective on the story from Mozart's opera, one in which Don Juan and Donna Anna genuinely fall in love before he is dragged into the abyss by the Stone Guest. This 1995 performance with Andrey Chistiakov leading the soloists and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre does a good job of presenting the opera in the best possible light. Chistiakov's reading is dramatic and urgent, and the soloists sing with polish, energy, and conviction. The recording should be of interest to any fans of Russian opera.

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