The Golden Cockerel opera review: Sensual, thundering and delightfully outrageous

In this thoroughly enjoyable song and dance junket, the big question is, who is sending up whom? Rimsky Korsakov created some of his most exquisitely sensual and thundering melodies to evoke a romantic Russian history.

Think of an excitable Genghis Khan galloping about the Central Steppes of Asia. In fact Russia’s founding was much more mundane, full of boring treaties and political manoeuvring.  But hey, who cares? A magic cockerel, a loveable buffoon of a King and beautiful women at every turn, East or West, we can all enjoy a joke like that.

At its Parisian premiere a hundred years ago, Russian impresario, Serge Diaghilev had fashionistas scrambling for a new fad – harem pants and turbans – when he unleashed this piece of Eastern exotica on the unsuspecting West.

The first character seen is the narrator, a miniature Diaghilev, complete with  moustache, top hat and white scarf. He was neatly tucked away near the wings with the other singers.

Centre stage was the massive Dmitry Kruglov’s King Dodon dominating from the start with his aggressively ginger beard, shimmering gold robe and more than a hint of Dame Edna.

His sons were women en travestie, Ekaterina Blashchick and Ekaterina Zaitseva, and none the worse for it, while the Cockerel was an explosive little bundle called Pavel Okunev whose brief but captivating appearances left us gasping for more as did Anna Markova’s seductive Queen of Shemakha handling her double bed sized veil with superhuman dexterity.

Lurking under their outrageous but greatly enjoyable pastiche characters, both Markova and Kruglov were clearly beautifully trained and accomplished dancers. Then there were the Boyars, the moujics and the townsfolk, all delightful in the revival of designer Natalia Goncharova’s original vision of a glaringly orange toytown.

Alevtina Ioffe conducted the Moscow State Music Theatre Orchestra and as far as the muffling effect of an orchestra pit allows, she did Rimsky’s music proud and loud.

In Act II, King Dodon takes time off trouncing his enemies to seduce The Queen of Shemakha.

Shifting between silent screen exaggeration and some very academic technique, both Markova and Kruglov caught between them the special quality of Russian dancers that raises the hair on the back of your neck. Andris Liepa is already planning his 2015 visit and I can’t wait.

Jeffery Taylor

**** out of 5 stars (Golden Cockerel)

Sunday Express