Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame/Rostropovich

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

It is strange to recommend a performance of an opera that is poorly sung by its two protagonists, but that’s the case with this special, 1977 reading led by Rostropovich. Just to get it out of the way, Galina Vishnevskaya’s Lisa, though vivid and involved, is simply captured too late in the soprano’s career; the voice rarely sounds comfortably produced and never sounds fresh, let alone young. And while I may not be up on my Russian tenor trivia, I’m still pretty certain that Peter Gougaloff, who sings Herman (or Gherman), never was a major artist, and here he sounds desperate half the time, and I don’t mean within character. The voice is healthy but he’s incapable of nuance. From there the singing gets better (with the exception of a disgusting Tomsky named Dan Iordachescu). Bernd Weikl is a telling, intelligent, and colorful Yeletzky, Hanna Schwarz’s Pauline is a delight, and luxury casting gives us Lucia Popp in the Intermezzo. Regina Resnik’s Countess steals the show–she makes the skin crawl with her aged eeriness.

But the reason this set remains not only in the running, but near the top, is Rostropovich, who underlines the sickly quality of the story and whips the orchestra into a frenzy that’s similar to Gherman’s dementia. There’s little upper-class gentility here; this is a cruel story of relatively vicious people, madness, and greed. The love music is euphoric in such an intense fashion that it also seems sick–the obsessive character of Gherman overrides anything sane. In other words, this is a thrilling Pique Dame, but you’ll have to put up with some pretty squally singing. Better is the Ozawa-led performance on BMG with Freni and Atlantov–not to mention the glorious, young Hvorostovsky.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Freni/Atlantov/Ozawa (BMG)


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