Why I walked out on the Met’s Prince Igor

Why I walked out on the Met’s Prince Igor


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2014

Steve Rubin, former New York Times arts writer turned leading publisher, had – for once in his life – seen enough. An exclusive report for Slipped Disc.


prince igor

Photo: Cory Weaver



Borodin’s PRINCE IGOR hasn’t been perfor med at the Met in almost 100 years. The current team decided to bring the work back to its origins, by sacking the tampering of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, both of whom tried to stitch together the scenes left by Borodin after his death. Say goodbye to the gorgeous overture; it was written by Glazunov. Director/designer Dmitri Tcherniakov has in essence produced “his” edition of the piece.

Musically, I can only comment on the performance, not the edition. Dramatically, I think the Russian director  Dmitri Tcherniakov made some interesting choices, none of which panned out. It all started with a multi-media approach–Igor projected on a screen. But it led nowhere. The prologue takes place indoors, thus diminishing the scene’s major event, an eclipse of the sun. Act I takes place on a field of poppies, which is visually striking, but ultimately gets in the way of the action.

There wasn’t a single singer who stood out. Unquestionably, the best vocalist on stage was the charismatic bass Ildar Abdrazakov, but his voice is at least three sizes too small for Igor at the Met (as it was for Attila). Gianandrea Noseda, the conductor, was more than competent, but rarely exciting. And the Met chose to lose 72 seats by allowing the chorus to sing from the side boxes in the famous Polovtsian Dances. It was fabulous because of the singing, but the choreography by Itzik Galili, was ludicrous, not helped at all by the endless poppies.

When we returned from the first interval, my lovely companion asked, “want to go?” Without a moment’s hesitation, we fled.


  • Daniel Farber says:

    Does Slipped Disc ever post a POSITIVE review of the Met Opera by SR or anyone else? That said, I find it odd that a critic who, though having great reservations, did not out and out PAN the performance, would elect to leave after the first interval. That companion must have been “lovely” indeed!

    • John Josephs says:

      If you click on the link at the very top of the page you will read SR’s very positive review of Die Frau at the Met from only a few months back. The level of defensiveness on this blog is baffling.

    • sdReader says:

      Look, Steve Rubin is a big cheese. He funds his own institute at Oberlin, where in 2012 he hosted Tim Page, Anne Midgette, Alex Ross, John Rockwell, and other luminaries.

    • Pamela says:

      Just seen it. Loved it. All of it.

      • Yelena says:


        I am very glad that you loved this production. However, being Russian and seeing a “real” production in the Bolshoi when I was a child, I would say that this one was a disaster to me – in my humble opinion.

        To transfer a historic event on which the opera is based, from 12th century Russia to basically Civil War in the beginning of 20th century, one had to have a very good reason. I think Mr. Tchernyakov did not prove he had one.

        If you could see the production I am talking about, with gorgeous staging which showed medieval Russia with its unique culture, a real horror of the crowd dressed in the clothes of that time when they saw the sun eclipse before Prince Igor battle, with the army under medieval Russian flags with very special symbols, and oriental richness of Kolchak camp, amazingly choreographed “polovtsian dances”, etc. I think you would understand what you missed. The music was written specially to allow listeners to feel the spirit of medieval Russia, and that staging fully expressed it.

        In my opinion what Dmitry Tchernyakov did to this beautiful opera was quite tasteless and not very creative.

        I can only feel sorry for those who did not see Prince Igor in its original production.

        • Jenny Earl says:

          I do so agree with you! Saw Prince Igor streamed live to cinema yesterday and could not believe how bad the direction was. I thought after a while that it had to be a joke – a sort of ‘Emporer’s clothes’ scenario, where the director/designer had managed to con the Met and everybody involved with the production that his ‘vision’ of the piece was profound and beautiful(!). The reality of his direction could not be further from the truth. What a waste! I love this music and would have preferred to have heard it on the radio- which was an option – than to have witnessed this sad spectacle.

        • Svitlana says:


          Cannot agree with you more.

          Dmitry Tchernyakov’s creation was the most depressing performance I have ever seeing. The last part I had to listen with my eyes closed, so difficult it was to watch. In mho director/designer’s choices were poor; the main idea of the source was misinterpreted, but music and voices were wonderful.

        • Michael says:

          I watched the performance this past Saturday. I purposely did not read any reviews before watching and have to say, I was very disappointed. As been said, when it came time for the polovtsian dances, you couldn’t see their legs move. Only seeing their upper bodies move, I felt like I was watching the opening scene of Aquarius from the musical Hair.

          Even the film clips that meant to show a horrific battle could have been done better – think of Polanski’s Macbeth for grim, yet dramatic visualizations.

          I appreciate the comments here that point out better versions of the Opera. Otherwise I would have thought it an outrage that an important moment in Russian history was allowed to be so poorly put together.

    • Ray Keene says:

      I saw it yesterday in London at a cinema via a satellite transmission. I thought the poppy scene was an unmitigated disaster and I tried to leave at the first interval. However my wife persuaded me to stay and it got better. In fact I really liked the Prince Galitsky mad dictator scenes which were wonderfully hammed up.

      • Yelena says:

        Yes, that’ what I heard also from my husband, who stayed through the whole performance – that he loved that scene with Galitsky. However, I can tell you something on this – I listened to the rest of the opera on radio (after I left the cinema), and I thought that the scene was amazing in its power. I think this was due to a dramatic play of Oksana Dyka as Yaroslavna and, especially of Mikhael Petrenko as Galitsky; also, their really great voices and powerful music of the scene made it so outstanding. I do not believe that it had anything to do with Tcherniakov’s staging.

  • Galen Johnson says:

    Gotta love non-composers who think they’re smarter than Glazunov and Rimsky.

    • Martin says:

      It’s an idea to reduce the piece to what the original composer composed, not two others. So far I haven’t read anything from someone who attended the performance.

      The above report is from someone who didn’t stay until the end, hence doesn’t count as having attended and therefore that person’s view shouldn’t get published without mentioning the view of the many who did actually see the full performance.

  • Hannigan says:

    The NY Times review by Tommassini sheds a differing view, which absolutely made me want to see the production! Hope you will post both.

  • Rotund Falstaff says:

    This type of review doesn’t deserve to be released, and I can’t believe Mr. Lebrecht has the audacity to publish it. If you’re going to take a crap on a production and a radically different production, that’s fine, but stay through the damn thing first.

    • Galen Johnson says:

      It’s not a review, it’s an impression, an opinion. As for audacity, omitting PI’s masterpiece of an overture–played by Borodin on the piano many times to Glazunov, who then carefully reconstructed it based on his memory and on Borodin’s sketches–that’s way beyond “audacity” and barges resolutely into “foolhardy.”

      • Rotund Falstaff says:

        If you’re writing that none of the director’s ideas panned out, that pretty much sounds like a review, an assessment of the performance. He talks about how the ideas failed, yet is he really qualified to make such a statement considering that he only saw one third of the drama. If Mr. Rubin’s writeup were a blog response to someone else’s review, fine, but the fact that Mr. Lebrecht has chosen to give it this kind of attention on his website is, frankly, a disappointment.

        Considering how Borodin never actually completed the opera and how Glazunov apparently reconstructed a piece of music that hardly bears any dramatic coherence in comparison to the rest of the piece. Speak to some Russian musicologists, and few will probably tell you that Glazunov’s piece works with the drama that he and Rimsky-Korsakov display. Since Borodin’s original work is frankly a mess in dramatic coherence (though the score is certainly one of the finest of the nineteenth century), it’s absurd that you should sanction Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov’s restructuring of the work and condemn the work of Tcherniakov, a director who has clearly spent years of hard work on this work. It’s also a bit ridiculous to state that the omission of the overture is foolhardy, since, if the story goes, it is not simply the overture of Borodin, rather than Glazunov’s attempts to replicate Borodin. This was not a piece written down by the composer, and, frankly, it shows. Glazunov, himself, admitted to adding in bars of his own. If you miss the overture, feel free to listen to it somewhere else, but don’t just call the director’s decisions (decisions approved by Noseda, a conductor far too intelligent to not challenge anything that rings false to him) foolhardy, particularly if you haven’t seen the work.

  • Willym says:

    Why is this even being published if the “reviewer” didn’t see the entire performance? I can only hope they had not been given press seats as then it would go beyond bad manners!

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    GOOD FOR MR. RUBIN. I personally think that it is these kind of mistakes that contributes to fewer people attending and Mr. Gleb owns these productions.

    So, Thank you Peter Gelb!

  • Joseph says:

    If you are going to review a performance, have the decency to stay in the theater until the end. You can daydream if you like.

    • Why? I am at a loss to understand some of the knee-jerk outrage to an honest and informed response to an opera that, in the viewer’s assessment, was not working.

      Steve Rubin, who has seen more live operas than most of us have had hot breakfasts, paid for his tickets to Prince Igor and decided he’d had enough after one act. Why should he be silenced of his right to express a critical opinion of what he has seen?

      • Martin says:

        Mention not only the opinion of one who didn’t even see the full performance, but various viewpoints you can find. Just spreading a one-sided judgement, especially when not even the full performance was seen, is not helpful to the general reader.

      • Halldor says:

        Norman, if you did much reviewing, those knee-jerks would come as no surprise to you – most critics have encountered the outraged reaction of performers unhappy with a review of their work. In many cases, there’s a tone of indignation that anyone other than a professional musician should consider themselves to have the right to express an opinion at all (as if only a professional chef is qualified to say when a steak is burned). I’ve seen performers marshalling fairly aggressive online campaigns against critics who’ve introduced even a single qualification into an otherwise positive review.

        It doesn’t seem to occur to them that a decision to leave a performance might itself be a considered judgement. It’s a fairly basic requirement of a performance that it make the listener want to keep listening – though most of us are too polite or generous to say so when it doesn’t.

      • eli77025 says:

        Perhaps the number of hot breakfasts that Mr. Rubin has had is not the measure of someone who is capable of reviewing opera. Having read Mr. Rubin’s review of the Met’s Falstaff and then seen/heard the Met’s production I can only surmise that Rubin lacked a hot breakfast before he went to Igor. Maybe Igor’s following acts would have would exceeded Rubin’s expectations. [redacted]

  • Ignacio says:

    I saw Prince Igor quite a few years ago at New York City Opera (remember them?), and it was boring, boring, boring. That it was City Opera casting(not that much lamented, really), perhaps except for the soprano, which I think was Carol Neblett, was not much help. I don’t recall if I stayed for the whole thing. All those who hark back to a Met performance in 1917 ignore whatever City Opera put on as Prince Igor.

  • Gloria says:

    This review is terrible. Admittedly, I only read the first sentence, but I still feel fully justified in passing judgment on the whole thing.

  • Harry Jensen says:

    I don’t think there is anyone who cares what Norman Lebrecht thinks about anything .

  • Barbara Baker says:

    To whom it may concern–critics frequently don’t stay for the entire performance.

  • Edgar says:

    Max Reger is said to have responded to a critic: “I am sitting in the smallest room of my home, with your review before me. Soon, I will have it behind me.” Quite apt in response to Steve Rubin, in this case:-)

  • Janey says:

    Mr. Rubin seems to be one on an island. Here is an interesting and lengthy dissection of both the production and the singers. Positive review, very positive for the singers.


  • georgia dewart says:

    by the way “Rusalka” wàs FAN TAS TIQUE yesterday 😉

    • Janey says:

      @georgia dewart Indeed. I am now used to the odd clapping in the theater at the end of an act, even though the performers can’t hear us. I have never seen a standing ovation in a movie theater, however. I did yesterday.

      More proof that I must never listen to critics. Ha!

      • Marguerite Foxon says:

        Maria Stuarda with DiDonato January 2012 (HD screening) received massive standing ovation in my town in FL. Perhaps Rusalka did too this year but I was not there. Agree, it’ rare.

  • Alison says:

    The title “Why I walked out on the Met’s Prince Igor” provides a clue.

    If he had been reviewing the opera, instead of simply voicing an impression, without admitting that he had walked out, that would be a different matter. As things stand, people can decide for themselves what to make of it.

  • fusionman says:

    We went to the dress rehearsal and felt the same way. Who picked those dancers? It was embarrassing.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    I think I have been stupid not to leave at the interval of several operas I have recently seen at the English National Opera: Fildelio and Fledermaus come to mind. Now they have a special offer on all productions during spring. What a surprise!

  • Bilbobaggins says:

    I thought the English horn and bassoon solos were nice.

  • m2n2k says:

    Here is a review by a critic whose opinions I trust more than those of most others – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/12cd9e16-8fe2-11e3-aee9-00144feab7de.html#axzz2srWGfYpO – and who undoubtedly stayed for the entire performance. This review is mixed to be sure, but mainly positive about the visual side of the production and mostly complimentary about its aural aspects.

  • Janey says:

    Reading this heated debate has led me to a question: Have the increasing numbers of HD screens diminished the effect of critics? If an opera is reviewed in New York or London, then some time later shown worldwide, what is the effect of critics on this production? What should it be? As more people begin seing HD performances instead of in house performances, and correspondingly the audience increases in diversity of knowledge,what does this mean for the critic’s profession?

  • PrewarTreasure says:

    Janey, projected opera and ballet performances, live or not, will do what ‘Classic FM’ has done for serious music in the last 20+ years – meaning, exposure and accessibility.

    The critics will rabbit on, irrespective. I don’t think we need be concerned about them; instead

    rejoice in the fact that, at last, opera is now affordable!

    • Janey says:

      @PrewarTreasure – It is actually more expensive or about the same to buy a ticket at my movie theater ($25) than a rush or balcony ticket at the Met (around $20-$30). The convenience and “goodies” like interviews and close ups are wonderful. Nothing can replace the sound of the voice in the house, but for those who cannot travel to the Met, this is a terrific (and in some ways superior) alternative.

      I do not know ‘Classic FM’ because I am not in the UK. I have my local radio station, which plays very little opera, and costs nothing. If it were not for the Met Radio Network, I would never hear an opera on the radio. For all the complaining among many about the Met, without their influence, most of us would have no access outside live productions (which are only in cities) to opera.

      I do worry about traditional US critics (separate from blogs). They seem often so out of step with audiences – just look at the audience comments (and blog comments) regarding Rusalka compared to the reviews in the newspaper. There is a similar divergence now developing with Prince Igor, and I have seen it many times before.

      Can a profession that is intended to assist the public continue to exist if the public no longer finds it useful? The situation is more acute given the increased accessibility of opera in cinemas in the US. I value critical evaluation, but I wonder if the public does, and if not, what is to be done?

  • Walter Daum says:

    if the reviewer had stayed for the whole show, he would have seen the most ridiculous part of the Met’s staging. Namely, that the trio where the Polovtsian princess begs her lover Vladimir not to leave her and return home to Russia with his father Igor, which obviously takes place in Polovtsian territory, is placed in the final act in Igor’s capital, after he has already returned.

  • Russell Platt says:

    The New Yorker’s Goings On About Town attended the entire performance, and concluded this:


    • Gonout Backson says:

      And he/she had to see the whole thing – to write this nonsense?

      • m2n2k says:

        Just out of curiosity – what is so nonsensical about it?

        • Gonout Backson says:

          First and foremost, you could have written this stuff without leaving your living room. As for the nonsense, it’s quite simple. An unfinished opera isn’t an “unconventional” opera, it’s just unfinished. It was never meant as a “work in progress”. Rimsky and Glazunov finished it not to make it “conventional”, but to have it performed. However you judge their choices, the were those of two dedicated friends and two great composers. To compare them to Mr Cherniakov, the obsessive rewriter of other people’s work, is ludicrous. And there’s this : “the work seem less like an ode to Russian nationalism and more like a plea for a peaceful, postmodern Eurasian consciousness”. How anachronistic could you get? Not accidentally, the opera was based on a text fundamental to the Russian 19th century nationalism (the irony being that the text, officially from the 12th century, has probably been fabricated in the 18th, certainly not after the 16th). The “peaceful, postmodern, Eurasian conscioussness” is something Borodin would never have said, probably not even understood. The are deeper, ideological undercurrents here, but sapienti sat.

  • m2n2k says:

    First but not foremost, your “you” is misdirected because I am not the one who writes for The New Yorker. Second, it does not make any difference in which room it was written, as long as it does a good job of describing the production. Since I have not seen it yet, I cannot judge that. Third, the text does not say that unfinished means unconventional – only that this particular opera was made more conventional by R-K and AG, and it does call their work “brilliant”. Fourth, since when is 18th century “not after the 16th”? Fifth, the production is certainly anachronistic and the text does not deny that. Sixth, the text clearly says that it was the director – not the composer – who made the opera “seem more like a plea…”. Whoever wrote it apparently found this interpretation convincing enough to recommend it. Whether I agree with that or not, I can only say after experiencing the production myself, but I do not see this brief synopsis of a review nonsensical in itself.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      My “you” was of the generic (“one could have…”) kind. The text has been introduced as follows: “The New Yorker’s Goings On About Town attended the entire performance, and concluded this”. Obviously, one didn’t have to “attend the entire performance” to write this. Since the basic line of attack against Mr Rubin’s statement was “he has no right to write about something he didn’t see in it’s entirety”, I thought my observation was to the point. “Conventional-unconventional” and “finished-unfinished” are not of the same nature and don’t describe the same reality. The second relates to objective facts. The first is an aesthetic (sometimes moral) judgment. One can easily imagine a perfectly finished, and utterly unconventional opera (Gluck’s Orfeo is exactly that). That’s what I meant by “ideological undercurrents”. The centuries affair is my stupid mistake: should have been “not BEFORE the 16th”. Of course, it’s the director who rewrote the piece according to his own, ideological agenda; that’s what he usually does, as do most of his colleagues. Unfortunately, it’s still announced as Borodin’s work, which it is not – in a far greater measure than the Rimsky/Glazunov version. As you can see:


      as usual, there’s not one word here about Tcherniakov having rewritten the opera. Did they fear it wouldn’t sell?

  • jr says:

    Saw two acts last night (leaving before third). Wish I’d left after first. I saw this opera several times at NYCO in the seventies and thoroughly enjoyed it (Niska and Villella, particularly). Last night’s performance was sooo undersung. The women did better than the men (particularly the Maiden who sang in the pit–fantastic), but they were nothing to write home about.

  • Kit Baker says:

    This is one of those times when you wonder if you were at the same performance.

    Far from getting in the way of the action, I thought the scene with the poppies was one of the best stagings I have ever seen. It would not have worked so well had it not been preceded by the very multimedia elements Mr. Rubin decries – which not only led somewhere but were essential to the meaning and power of what subsequently unfolded on stage (i.e. in the imagination of the shell-shocked protagonist). The eclipse was all the more powerful for being implied with a sudden burst of brooding light through the windows and wind and snow through the doors rather than demonstrated by a physical representation of an eclipse – poetically rather than literally – with the result that it permeated every inch of the stage and captured (nay, seized) our imaginations.

    It could well be that Mr. Rubin has seen more operas than I’ve had hot breakfasts, but I’ve seen operas on three continents and pretty regularly at the Met for two decades, and I thought Mr. Tcherniakov’s production was a triumph. As was his previous outing at the Met, The Invisible City of Kitezh (I did, in a manner of speaking, breakfast heartily on that, another magnificent production).

    I think a much more interesting story is not Mr. Rubin walking out, but Peter Gelb throwing his weight behind a director’s vision in these kinds of ambitious productions. I think Tcherniakov was an excellent choice, and look forward to this kind of “director’s theater” being a more regular feature of Met programming in future seasons.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      A “director’s theatre” would be legitimate only if the directors were writing their own plays and operas, and signing them with their own names. In “this kind of director’s theatre” they’re rewriting other people’s work, while keeping the names of the original authors – because it sells better. There are many names for that, none of them pretty.

      • Kit Baker says:

        “Director’s theater” is a translation of Regietheater, which has been a subject of lively, informed and passionate discussions on this blog (part of the reason I keep coming back to Slipped Disc – thank you, Norman!).

        It’s not a question of directors writing their own plays and operas, or rewriting other people’s work, rather staging productions of existing works in which “the creator’s original, specific intentions or stage directions (where supplied) can be changed, together with major elements of geographical location, chronological situation, casting and plot.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regietheater)

        In the case of Prince Igor, the fact that Borodin had only completed one third of the opera before his death essentially demanded rewriting. Tcherniakov’s production was proposed as an alternative to the version that was completed with music by Rimsky Korsakov and Glazunov – and widely accepted not to be definitive.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          The wikipedia description is precisely that: a description of an extremely curious phenomenon where one interpreter, and one only, has the right to do whatever he pleases with someone else’s work, whereas all the others are bound to sing, play and conduct the real thing – unless, of course, the director has tampered with the score as well, as is the case with the Met Prince Igor, and as it seems to happen more and more frequently. Of course, the fact that Igor has been left incomplete doesn’t change anything. Tcherniakov is tampering with finished pieces as well (he even rewrote Don Giovanni, of all things), for him it makes no difference, it’s just a pretext. One could compare his knowledge of Borodin’s intentions and his musical achievements with those of Rimski and Glazunov, if only to have a good laugh. But the real answer is on the Met’s page I gave above: the “naive” ticket buyer has no way to know the Prince Igor he’s about to pay for, hear and watch, has, in fact, been rewritten by Mr Tcherniakov. The absence of such an information proves, if proof be needed, that the Met has some serious misgivings about the legitimacy of the whole operation. Guilty conscience?

          • Kit Baker says:

            Well, I guess it depends on what you think “the real thing” is. It looks like I don’t think that’s as easy to define as you do.

            I met a Russian man on opening night whose operaphile wife had dragged him along – he had very bad memories of his teenage encounters with Prince Igor in Moscow, and was elated to discover that Tcherniakov had given him something completely different from what he had remembered.

            I’m with him. I’m never going to give a free pass to opera directors, and have seen my share of misguided or failed conceits. But for me, this production was the real thing.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            The “real thing” question is frequently the first the enthusiasts of Regietheater raise in this case. True, there has been a famous “Sonate, que me veux-tu?”, still, it’s funny no one asks this about the Waldstein, or the Hammerklavier. No one questions the identity (let’s not waste our time on details of edition, phrasing or articulation : this is about the “how”; the “real thing” question is about the “what”) of what the conductor conducts, the orchestra plays, or the singers sing. Only directors feel this urge.

            Why? Because it’s nothing but a disingenuous attempt at an alibi: “since even the composer hesitated and sometimes changed his mind, there is no such thing as a finished work, everything is a work in progress and I can do what I damn please”.

            For some, the whole history of science is just a history of mistakes; so “why should I believe the last one?” Tut, tut.

            If the Prince Igor is really “the real thing”, why didn’t Mir Cherniakov sign it as the legitimate author? It would have been so easy : “D. Cherniakov – Prince Igor, adapted from an opera by Alexander Borodin”. And suddenly, I don’t have a leg to stand on.

  • Kit Baker says:

    Hmmm…. I can’t help but wonder what conductors would have to say about that. William Christie springs to mind.

    Actually, I’m getting closer to understanding the difference between us – which I am genuinely interested in. I have much more difficulty than you do in separating the “how” and the “what”. For me, they are inextricably entwined.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Why William Christie? I don’t get it. He was frequently dealing with uncomplete, sometimes extremely problematic old scores, without ever tampering with their basic identities.

      “Creative” directors are doing precisely that, every day on two continents, more often than not with works where no such problems appear.

      Unfortunately, once again, you avoid the fundamental question: the honest information about the Public is about to hear and see. Not a word about Cherniakov’s rewriting on the Met’s page. No serious discussion can go around that.

      • Kit Baker says:

        Because William Christie’s approach to the baroque repertoire strikes me as very contemporary, and I’d be curious to know where he comes down in the actual performance between historical accuracy – which in his case would be based on incomplete information, like Prince Igor – and poetic licence. In other words, how much the basic identities of the baroque works he performs have been recreated and how much they have been reinvented.

        I recently heard an episode of Radiolab about research into Beethoven’s use of a metronome that suggests the tempos currently in favor are significantly slower than the composer intended (http://www.radiolab.org/story/269783-speedy-beet/).

        Let’s suppose that Beethoven did indeed intend his music to be played at these much faster tempos. In that case, where would that honest information fit in the information an orchestra might disseminate if it decides to play Beethoven’s music slower than they know he wanted?

        The fundamental question is not whether Tcherniakov has rewritten the opera (whatever that means – he’s a stage director, anything he wrote would have been his own work notes or something for the playbill) but how the alternative version he has developed in collaboration with his conductor compares with the version that was in fact rewritten by Rimsky Korsakov and Glazunov.

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s widely accepted to advertise the opera as Prince Igor by Borodin – not Prince Igor by Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov, and Glazunov?

  • Ken Berv says:

    As a Met subscriber, and a rather sophisticated, life long (69 and counting) attendee of very fine concerts and operas, I am increasingly frustrated by these fey “auteur” directors ignorant of, or worse, regardless of STYLE and CUSTOM and PERIOD, perverting the composer’s intentions by putting their ego far above ART, which seems not to be a part of their “talents.” We lasted, mistakenly, through ACT II. We did see the Marinsky production in 1998 at the Met, described by Tomassini of the NYX as “bland and traditional.” Magnificient and beautiful might be bland to this fan of the bizarre and inchoate. The hallucinogenic spectacle of the Polovetsian Dances contrasted obscenely with the “survivors of Dachau” dance this February. I am still trying to puzzle the relevance of the opening quote displayed on the screen, something like, “If you have internal distress, start a war.” How this applies to Igor, whose country was invaded by the Mongolian hordes, or to his enemy, whose megalomania and desire for empire motivated the attacks, I have no clue. This disconnect applies equally to the haphazard melange of styles, and inconsistence in this production. As usual, the Met orchestra and singers were fabulous. What professionals they are to produce such sonic beauty amidst such travesty! I wish I had an address to send the NYX critic a copy of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” Or perhaps he is just so sated and jaded anything “different” must be “fabulous.”

  • Nancy C Lea says:

    I also walked out…only the second time in my life that I have done that at a Met performance. (The first was the wildly-ludicrous staging of Handel’s “Samson” some years back, with Jon Vickers, but, I’ve been told the production was “borrowed” from Covent Garden and Vickers’ insistence.) I know the opera and was terribly excited to go see it. Frankly, after all that rather mysterious, pointless action in the damned poppy-field, I was wondering “WTF?” When the dancers started gyrating around, again, rather pointlessly, I’d had enough.

    I have a wide-open mind as to the “re-imagining” of classic theatre, and, in my student days, fearlessly dropped my underwear in the belief that ‘experimental theatre” was the only way to go, but, this stuff was just…well.. POINTLESS. It was confusing, overly-melodramatic, and, just plain annoying. Some wonderful singing, but, again, “WTF?” How much would it have cost to build, say, an actual SET???? A set with some RELEVANCE???

    The Met has done some cheap, as in “tacky,” stuff lately, as in the “Tosca” where a boob-and-butt-flashing ballet dancer did a rather graphic depiction of giving Scarpia a, um, “intimate attention.” (Some of the furniture onstage looked like it had been picked up cheap on 14th Street, or out in Brooklyn, and the painting of the Madonna looked straight out of a 60’s student art show.)

    • Marshall says:

      I took a pass on Prince Igor, but I had to react to someone walking out on Jon Vickers-imagine that! No matter what the production-and the musicological fact that from today’s perspective Handel would not be presented that way-could not be presewnted that way. Yes, Vickers’ Samson was a bit like Siegmund visits Handel, but his Total Eclipse is still deeply moving, and my God, you can hear the words.

      By the way once I went to a performance I ‘ve never walked out-because if I hated it, at least I could say, yes, I went to it-and that’s why I view it that way.

  • BE says:

    I just saw the MetHD broadcast. Excellent singing; the interpretation offered by the director is wholly convincing and compelling, deeply moving. Those who can, direct, those who can’t, criticize.

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Just to be precise (even if your last phrase is a zombie of a cliché): I didn’t “criticize” Mr Cherniakov for a production I hadn’t yet seen. I willingly admit that he might have done a wonderful show. I hope he did at least that. All I did, having learned from detailed descriptions that he turned the piece upside down (its ideological message included), was to criticize him for chickening out of signing his own, original work, instead of hiding once again behind someone else’s name.

  • Holly Bodman says:

    I agree with Steve Rubin, Walter Doud and Gonout Backson about the Met’s production of Prince Igor — except that I wish I had stayed home. Can anyone tell me who fleshed out the music in this version? Borodin’s name is referenced by the Met rather dismissively — besides, the credit line for composer/author shoud read: Dmitri Tcherniakov-Peter Gelb.

    • Richardriley says:

      I am grateful to both of these musical experts. Prince Igor is not for everyone. These men posses

      the delicacy of feeling required to allow people like myself to enjoy masterpieces of grand opera.

  • Clayton says:

    I watched the live HD broadcast here in Maryland. Prince Igor is my favorite opera, and I was lucky enough to see a revival production with traditional staging in Moscow in 1981, with Nesterenko as Igor on opening night. (That was filmed, and I recently found it on a VAI dvd, although image quality is often blurry, and the camera or the editing misses some spectacular stage effects. Among many plusses: A real contralto, not a mezzo, sings Konchakovna.) To the present production: I have mixed feelings about director’s theater, but I for one liked the poppy field effect and the different take on the Polovtsian Dances. Where I almost walked out was at the ending, when an extended wordless scene was tacked on (and just what were Igor and the people of Putivl building in this scene?). But I stayed. The music used in this scene sounded to me like an adaptation of the Finale which Borodin wrote for the scrapped Mlada project with Rimsky-Korsakov and Musorgsky. I’ve only ever heard that in an old RCA vinyl LP set of Borodin’s orchestral music (Tjeknavorian conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra). RCA has reissued the symphonies from that set on CD, but I wish they would restore the entire set, including the Mlada finale, which is so much more than what is heard in the current Met Prince Igor production. (It’s complicated: According to the essay in the Philips CD set of this opera with Gergiev and the Mariinsky, Borodin’s Mlada music actually was originally intended for Prince Igor, then he decided to adapt it for Mlada, then he dropped it altogether.)

  • Rod Desjardins says:

    I saw Prince Igor on an HD simulcast. The music was lovely. The singing and performances were good. The production was slow and plodding. The constant breaks for scene changes screen projections of the characters were annoying. Perhaps music, pulled from the proceeding act could have been played to fill these moments. I stayed and watched the entire opera despite wanting to leave after the first act to see if it got any better. I only paid $25 to see it at a theatre. If I had paid full price for a seat at the MET I would have been upset by this.

  • Al Maki says:

    I saw the “Live in HD” broadcast yesterday and was tempted to do the same thing. Walk out at the first intermission. My companion didn’t want to leave and since I was driving I had to stay. I loved the rest of it, particularly the final act.

  • Richardriley says:

    Prince Igor was a remarkable achievement for me. I watched the simulcast in Revere, Massachusetts.

    The first act was unquestionably completely satisfying both emotionally and musically. The director used the chorus perfectly in symphonic attachment to the lead singers most notably Prince Igor. Captivating in originality

    and daring in scope of masterful generosity.

    This brilliant production was completed by the most beautiful music

    ending the opera. All I must say is the final orchestral music was so sublime

    and tantalizing that when it swept by you, it was an after thought of total beauty

    beyond description. Awestruck.

  • Kit Baker says:

    I stayed for the whole thing on opening night, then watched the broadcast – here are some reflections: http://kitbakerii.blogspot.com/2014/03/prince-igor.html

    • Richardriley says:

      As I read your heartfelt thoughts about Prince Igor, I was listening to Shostakovich’s 5th symphony and the combination brought me to tearful remembrance. I cannot explain how this is possible expect to think that you

      struck the essence of this beautiful opera. I shall see the encore on Wednesday with your delicate insight with me.


  • Yelena says:

    Hello all,

    I am not sure if I can do this on this blog – so, please correct me if am wrong – but I just wanted to give you an idea of a different performance of Prince Igor which was recently staged in Bolshoi Theatr by the famous former director of Taganka theater in Moscow ,Yuri Luubimov. I found in this “rival” performance everything that I missed in the one by Tcherniakov, and enjoyed it a lot:


    • Gonout Backson says:

      Everything? Even Konchak’s 2nd act aria?

      • Yelena says:

        Konchak is really, really bad. He does not have voice. Sorry. I made my comment after I finished watching “polovtsian dances”. In fact, to my opinion Russian singers in this production do not reach to the vocal level required in this opera. However, I talked about the production, rather than singing. This production is a beautiful vessel into which Met could have poured excellent content, i.e. great voices of really good singers. However, they Instead chose something quite outrageous. IMHO.

  • Charlie Hall says:

    I saw it tonight. Or rather, I saw the prologue and first act, and also left. The singing and orchestra weren’t bad. But the production was every bit as bad as indicated here.

  • Michael Kovacs says:

    I have seen Igor several times in respectful editions to the author(s) and opera traditions. The present MET performance was anything but impertinent cheat. Hiding behind respectful names they cheated the paying public. They were hiding they staged a political agenda as some kind of prompt response to Russia and Putin’s Olympics. Art is a free form of expression. Cheating is not.

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