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In his oeuvre of 10 operas, “The Maid of Orleans” 
was completed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between
1878 and 1879, and revised in 1882. This work has
been critically considered to be one of his weaker
operas, primarily for dramatic reasons. It was the
composer’s attempt to produce a work emulating
the style of French Grand Opera. Ironically, its
predecessor, “Eugene Onegin,” written between
1877 and 1878, is considered to be Tchiakovsky’s
greatest success in the genre.

Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky is still “Tchaikovsky,”
and the 1993 production I recently watched goes
a long way toward illuminating the riches within
this score. It’s one of the few available recordings
of the work and for all I know, it might be the only
one available on DVD. This production featured an
all-Russian cast, under the baton of Maestro
Alexander Lazarev and the Bolshoi Symphony
Orchestra and Chorus, thereby demonstrating its
“authentic” pedigree. The staging was a mixture
of realism and symbolism, and it worked quite
well dramatically. For the most part, the singers
were quite solid, with soprano Nina Rautio singing
the lead role of “Joan of Arc.”

The story is based on The Maid of Orleans:
A Tragedy
by Friedrich Schiller, and Tchaikovsky
wrote the libretto himself. When I watch or listen
to an opera, I don’t let the dramaturgic obstacles
impede my enjoyment of the actual music, and this
piece contains a lot of fine, if not topnotch
Tchaikovsky. Many of the orchestral interludes and
grand choral set pieces are quite nice. In my
opinion, it’s the smaller ensemble passages,
i.e., the duets, etc., that are weaker musically.

Tchaikovsky had a melodic gift second to none.
Even this “lesser” opera with a running time just
shy of two and one-half hours, stands his talents
in good stead. Besides, it was nice to finally watch
a work by a major composer that I’d never
heard or seen, and I’m truly glad that I did.

This production was made for television by
director Brian Large during the 1990’s. While the
stereo 2.0 Dolby sound is not great, it’s certainly
more than adequate. I don’t know if any cuts were
made in this performance, but I can recommend it,
for the reasons listed above.

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