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Tchaikovsky – The Maid of Orleans

Joan of Arc – Irina Arkhipova
The Dauphin – Vladislav Piavko
The Cardinal – Paiil Marinov
Agnes Sorel – Rosario Andrade
Dunois – Lucian Marinescu
Lionel – Andre Orlowitz
Raymond – Michel Cherb
Thibaud d’Arc – Nicola Ghiuselev

Chorus & Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France/Jean-Pierre Marty
Recorded Paris, 1975

Irina Arkhipova (mezzo soprano), Vladislav Piavko (tenor) & Graig Sheppard (piano)
Songs by Rimsky Korsakov, Borodin, Cui, Rubinstein, Mendelssohn and Vlasov
Arias from La Pique Dame, Boris Godunov, Paulus (Mendelssohn), La cemenza di Tito, Le nozze di Figaro, Cavalleria rusticana and Il trovatore
Recorded Wigmore Hall, 22 March 1983

Gala GL 100627 - 3 CDs – 212 minutes

Despite being very well represented in the theatre, with major plays, to name but three, by Schiller, Shaw and Anouilh, Joan of Arc remains poorly served by opera. In this centenary year it is just possible that someone may drag Balfe’s version out of the library, Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco is staged occasionally although it is well below the standard of his best works, leaving the warrior saint to be championed by Tchaikovsky’s Orleanskaya Dyeva, which does at least have some memorable arias.

Based on a non-russian subject, and incorporating ballet and other elements in the French grand opera style, this was the first of Tchaikovsky’s operas to be performed outside Russia.  But its success was limited, and it dropped out of the repertoire almost immediately, despite several attempts to revive it in shortened versions.    Amongst these revisions was the change of scoring of the title role from a soprano to the mezzo-soprano range, and it is as a vehicle for a star mezzo that brought the opera back to the stage in the late twentieth century.

One suspects that this was certainly the impetus behind this recording, show-casing Irina Arkhipova at the height of her career.  It is entirely successful from this point of view, with the glorious hymn and tender farewell aria leading to the finale of Act 1. 

The remainder of the cast are strongly supportive, but despite re-mastering, I found the general sound quality of this 1975 recording disappointing and lack-lustre.  Whilst it is known that Tchaikovsky made significant changes and cuts to the original opera, this version seems exceptionally truncated, with the biggest cuts occurring in Acts 3 and 4, and brings the story to a rather abrupt ending.   

But, the “set” contains a sizeable bonus, in fact one could almost say that the package contains two recordings in one, as 5 bands on CD2 and the whole of CD3 are taken up by a 1983 Wigmore Hall recital given by Arkhipova and her rather younger husband, tenor Vladislav Piavko.  The sound quality of this is fine, and their repertoire is a wide one, drawn from both art song and operatic repertoire. 

No libretto is supplied for the opera and the listing for the recital programme is somewhat hard to follow.

A qualified welcome then for this re-issue, which will be of more interest to Arkhipova fans than devotees of Tchaikovsky’s operas.

Serena Fenwick