Tragic tale of 'The Tsar's Bride' reveals Russian history

Shanghai audiences got a taste of real Russian history as the Bolshoi Theatre is staging Rimsky-Korsakov's acclaimed opera "The Tsar's Bride" at Shanghai Grand Theater.
Ti Gong

Shanghai audiences got a taste of real Russian history as the Bolshoi Theatre is staging Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s acclaimed opera “The Tsar’s Bride” at Shanghai Grand Theater.
“The Tsar’s Bride,” which premiered in 1916, is a tragic tale based on a true story, while Rimsky-Korsakov’s music and Fyodor Fedorovsky’s design managed to create a time tunnel of 16th-century Russia.

Rimsky-Korsakov is a master of orchestration and a wizard at using Russian fairy tales and folk elements in his works. Although “The Tsar’s Bride” is not a complicated composition, it is a good example of his perfect use of traditional Russian elements, according to Tugan Sokhiev, music director and chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre.

“Audiences will hear melodies of folk songs with a strong Russian flavor, which might be a fresh experience,” said Sokhiev.

Soprano Olga Seliverstova, who plays the leading role of Marfa, said “The Tsar’s Bride” is one of her favorite operas. 

“I hope my interpretation not only delivers a happy girl in love at the beginning, but also the fragile part of her as the story unfolds,” said Seliverstova. “I believe such emotion is not just real in old Russia, but real for audiences of today.”

Considering the relatively complicated plot, Katerina Novikova, head of the theater’s media department, suggested audiences get a clue of the story in advance so that they can better enjoy the music and performance rather than spending too much time on the subtitles. 

Luxuriant stage settings and costumes are another highlight of the opera, and Fedorovsky based it on a script in 1927. His daughter first brought Fedorovsky’s design to the stage in 1955 and it was updated later. 

The version staged in Shanghai this time is based on a new production in 2014, which was updated from a 1966 version. The traditional two-dimensional scenes are replaced by solid stage settings and properties, so performers can move more freely on stage rather than sticking to the scene in the back.

Various delicate traditional costumes echo the luxurious royal lives in old Russia. With advancing textile technology, most costumes today are much lighter than they look. But it still takes a lot of effort for the performers to get dressed.

“There are many layers in a traditional Russian dress. Learning how to put on every layer is a good lesson of Russian history for us. We searched for documents and related books to make sure we did it correctly,” said Seliverstova.

Performance details

Date: Through May 16, 7:15pm
Tickets: 80-1,580 yuan
Tel: 6386-8686
Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater
Address: 300 People’s Ave

Ti Gong
Ti Gong
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