One could not walk out from the Met's live HD performance of Prince Igor on saturday without thinking of current events and the eerie/ironic parallels with the opera narrative.
“To unleash a war is the surest way to escape oneself.”
is the statement that confronts the viewer right at the start. This is intended to convey the director's sentiment that Prince Igor is "a tormented figure who wages war for personal, selfish reasons" rather than a national hero.
It works, sort of.
The hero, as played by bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov, is far too good-looking and wholesome to be a selfish, tormented figure. That descriptor almost better suits Galitsky, the hedonistic carouser, who rules in Igor's absence.
When Igor returns in Act 3, and starts the process of re-building the destroyed city of Putivl with his own hands, I couldn't help feel that Lenin must be smiling at the symbolism of the nobility and proletariat united in common labour.
As to current events, one could read current events in Crimea into the "waging war for selfish reasons" rubric. Then again, that could equally apply to the forgotten war in Iraq methinks.
More insistent for me, were the references in the text to Kiev, the Don, the Dnieper. One couldn't hear those and not think of Ukraine and the very mixed up history that emerges from Kievan Rus. Borodin's text was nationalistic and set to gorgeous music.
I struggled to stay awake in Act 1 - not on account of the music, just personal fatigue. I was, therefore, at a bit of a loss during the Polovtsian Fields "dream" sequence. Poppies? I kept wondering. Do they have red poppies in the Crimea - for that is where I imagined the Polovtsia to be - not altogether incorrectly as I have since learned, adding further to the confusing history of that area now being played out on the world stage.
I did like the dancers, though. Some opera sticklers apparently did not. However, I thought the choreography was brilliant and - more important - remarkably well in synch. Half naked men dancing did, naturally, wake me up.
The music and singing was gorgeous throughout. Standouts for me were Oksana Dyka (Yaroslavna), Ildar Abdrazakov (Igor), and Sergey Semishkur (Vladimir). I thought that Oksana Dyka deserved the final bow as it seemed to me that she, rather than Abdrazakov, did more singing. The cast was almost all imported from Russia and that was all to the good. They sang with the passion of those for whom this is a story that is ingrained.
It was fascinating to find out during one of the intermissions that this was one of the hardest operas ever for the huge chorus to learn not only due to the language but due to the fact that there is hardly any repetition in the text. Mind you, when I heard the chorusmaster say that, my reaction was that he can't have been paying attention to the very first number (Glory to the beautful sun) which repeated that line over and over!
Overall, the opera certainly packed a punch. You left knowing that you had experienced something, and trying to sort out the various threads, and symbolism in your head. It is most definitely a performance worth seeing.