Sunday, 22 January 2017


And so to the opera; some Rimsky-Korsakov this time. It's fairy tales for the spring season at Opera North, and what better way to start than with one that no one will be familiar with: the Snow Maiden, apparently an old Russian folk tale. If one ignores the symbolism - which one can't - then the plot bears some resemblances to 'La Vida Breve', and like their recent revival of Falla's one act piece the director has chosen to set it in a garment factory. Apart from reusing the sewing machines I'm not sure what that adds to things. The rest of the design is really impressive though, with a transparent front screen being used to display snowflakes, sunflowers and other devices to move the narrative along including at one point a Keystone Cops style charabanc. Our heroine's death (a) is also nicely handled; one minute she's there, the next minute she's not, her literal corporeal deliquescence following her culminating emotional thaw.

Returning to the symbolism, it is about as opaque as the front-of-stage screen. If one lives in a place that for half the year is bitterly cold and buried under snow then one is going to create myths about the crucial annual cycle by which the winter recedes and life returns. Grandfather Frost long predates the Soviet Union's use of him to replace that arch capitalist lackey Santa Christmas, as presumably does his drink problem. And it is with good reason that Lel, the womaniser representing the sun, prefers the warm, voluptuous and, one must assume, fecund Kupava to the Princess who, though beautiful, will not be able to either stand up to or return his ardour. The snow must be destroyed in order that the soil, suitably aided by the sun, gives forth its harvest.

It's not an opera that I was familiar with - it hasn't until now been performed professionally in the UK during my lifetime - but I must say that I found it all rather lovely.

(a) Apologies for the lack of spoiler alert, but, hey, it's an opera; it can't have been too much of a surprise

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