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The Golden Cockerel

The Golden Cockerel 14 January 1954, Royal Opera House

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The last of the 14 operas by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov has always been his most popular.

There is the humour, ranging from knockabout comedy to stinging satire as it uses Pushkin s original short story to lampoon Tsarist manners and ambitions, as well as small-mindedness in the face of foreign cultures. There is the deftness and brevity of its construction a world away from the Parsfalian epic tone of his previous opera, The Invisible City of Kitezh. Rimsky had thought himself wrung and written out after completing the four hours of Kitezh, but along came the suggestion to adapt Pushkin s tale, and the score was completed astonishingly quickly “ within the space of nine months “ and crucially, each bar tingling with the bright, edgy instrumental colour of which Rimsky had become such a master, and with a skill that Stravinsky would later draw on and appropriate.

Igor Markevitch was as renowned for his evocation of orchestral tone-colours on the podium as Rimsky was on the page, but opportunities to hear him in opera are few and far between. He is the perfect conductor for the Golden Cockerel: careful, unsentimental and everywhere alive to its wit and imagery. His singers are cast in depth, from the aptly penetrating soprano of Arda Mandikian as the eponymous bird whose cry warns of danger, to the extraordinarliy secure top notes of Hugues Cu nod as the Astrologer. The revival of Golden Cockerel by the Royal Opera at Sadler s Wells showed what a crowd-pleaser it is; now an equally captivating evening from half a century ago can be relived for the first time.