The Demon review – Cardiff winner Andrei Kymach makes his mark

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
A remarkable showing from the newly crowned Singer of the World and erotically charged scenes in this Rubinstein rarity

Anton Rubinstein is perhaps most frequently remembered as the inspirational teacher who, in 1862, founded St Petersburg Conservatory, where Tchaikovsky was among his pupils. He was also, however, a prolific composer in his own right, and his 1875 opera The Demon, superbly performed in concert by the Chelsea Opera Group, was among the most popular Russian works in the late 19th century, though it has become something of a rarity since.

Rubinstein’s source was Lermontov’s poem of the same name, about a Demon, portrayed as a doomed Byronic outsider, seeking spiritual redemption through the love of Tamara, a mortal woman. His desire for her eventually kills her, though her soul is saved through divine intervention, leaving the Demon to wander alone throughout eternity. Rubinstein was a cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist figure and his music has an eclectic quality that makes his style difficult to pin down. There are echoes of Berlioz and Wagner’s Lohengrin, along with passages that prefigure Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The scenes between Tamara and the Demon are erotically charged. Elsewhere, however, there are occasional longueurs.

Andrei Kymach, fresh from his win at Cardiff Singer of the World, took the title role. He is a remarkable artist, his voice darkly beautiful and evenly produced, his command – both of line and text – is at once subtle and deeply expressive. His Tamara, Anush Hovhannisyan, sang with fierce intensity and considerable power. In a cast without a weak link, Giorgi Sturua as Tamara’s fiance Sinodal and Barnaby Rea as her father Prince Gudal also stood out. Oliver Zeffman conducted with passion and elan, and playing and choral singing were thrilling.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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