The music in Chelsea Opera Group’s version of this Slavic epic gives a better sense of Borodin than the dancing
The overture is by Glazunov. Much of the orchestration is by Rimsky Korsakov and Lyadov. So what do we mean when we talk about Borodin’s Prince Igor? Fifteen years in the making, his Slavic epic sprawls over the steppes of 12th-century Ukraine: a skirmish here, a sally there, and always the stallions and the slave girls.
If we know Prince Igor at all, we know it from the honeyed borrowings of Forrest and Wright in Kismet, and from the Polovtsian Dances for choir and orchestra. These dances were likely the main draw for Chelsea Opera Group. Yet the central story of Prince Igor is one of uxoriousness.
Conducted with style, clarity and energy by Jessica Cottis and sung in David Lloyd-Jones’s clean English translation, the stag and hen-party vulgarity was balanced by shapely string playing and elegant phrasing from the flutes. Spangled with gong, tambourine, drums and caveman brass, the music in the camp of the hospitable nomad despot Konchak Khan (Jeremy White) was sung lustily by the 60-strong amateur chorus.
The Polovtsians have more fun than the Putivlians — faster horses, faster women — but Igor (David Kempster) longs to return to Yaroslavna (Lee Bisset) and resume battle with his host. Bisset delivered Yaroslavna’s music of foreboding, longing and righteous fury with bright intensity, while Kempster sang gravely, soberly. This, more than the dances, feels like Borodin’s voice.
Distracted by Konchak’s comely daughter, Konchaknova (Emma Carrington), Igor’s son Vladimir (Andrew Rees) lost his lust for fighting. White’s moo-hah-hah laughter and bronzed timbre, and Joshua Bloom’s saturnine glamour as Yaroslavna’s bad-body brother, impressed, as did plucky performances by Des Turner and Lee Hickenbottom as Skula and Yeroshka. It was, in both senses, a blast.