The Demon

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Screen shot 2015-02-06 at 7.58.20 PMAnton Rubinstein wrote the opera, The Demon, in 1871.  It is based on a poem by Mikhail Lermontov.  Rubinstein, (no relation to Arthur) was the composition professor of Tchaikovsky. Lermontov’s poem was banned in Russia as sacrilegious, until 1860.   Anything that had been banned always makes an excellent choice for an opera, which, in the last part of the 19th Century, was pushing the envelope.  This should set the stage to explain the music, which is rarely performed in this US.  As usual, with opera, it is a tragic story, with the baritone getting the shaft at the end.  It is a juicy, romantic, lush baritone part.

“…The poem is set in Lermontov’s beloved Caucasus Mountains. It opens with the devil (or demon as he is called here) wandering the earth, hopeless and troubled. He dwells in infinite isolation, his immortality and unlimited power a worthless burden. Then he espies the beautiful Princess Tamara, dancing for her wedding and in the desert of his soul wells an indescribable emotion.

The Demon, acting as a brutal and powerful tyrant, destroys his rival: at his instigation, robbers come to despoil the wedding and kill Tamara’s betrothed. The Demon courts Tamara, and Tamara knows fear, yet in him she sees not a demon nor an angel but a tortured soul. Eventually she yields to his embrace, but his kiss is fatal. And though she is taken to Heaven, the Demon is left again “Alone in all the universe, Abandoned, without love or hope!…”.

“…The setting of the Demon is somewhere between heaven, hell and earth – just as the demon himself is a fallen angel, an inwardly torn character, a negating power and adversary of the angel at the same time. Unable to love and still be humble, he falls in love with Tamara, who is about to marry Prince Gudal’s son, and kills the bridegroom. The bride escapes to a convent and is visited by the demon, who promises to renounce evil and pictures their future as eternity and boundless power. Tamara, yielding to temptation, is killed when he kisses her. In the struggle for her soul, the angel keeps the upper hand, for “he who loves belongs to paradise”. For the demon, nothing has really changed: he carries on living in eternal damnation and loses his hope in the shape of Tamara, with whom he shared his solitude, his longing for love, his thirst for knowledge and the sadness resulting from it all…”

Opera Lively
Opera Lively

While I am an advocate for gratuitous and exploitative, but tasteful renditions of baritones, and I am a confessed baritone junkie, the one reason I am using this photo from the tasteful article in Barihunks, is to show how close Hvorostovsky is to the 1890 concept art of Demon.  (It’s a good excuse).

Barihunks
Barihunks

“…The poem is set in Lermontov’s beloved Caucasus Mountains. It opens with the devil (or demon as he is called here) wandering the earth, hopeless and troubled. He dwells in infinite isolation, his immortality and unlimited power a worthless burden. Then he espies the beautiful Princess Tamara, dancing for her wedding and in the desert of his soul wells an indescribable emotion.

The Demon, acting as a brutal and powerful tyrant, destroys his rival: at his instigation, robbers come to despoil the wedding and kill Tamara’s betrothed. The Demon courts Tamara, and Tamara knows fear, yet in him she sees not a demon nor an angel but a tortured soul. Eventually she yields to his embrace, but his kiss is fatal. And though she is taken to Heaven, the Demon is left again “Alone in all the universe, Abandoned, without love or hope!…”.

The problem with is wonderful opera is that it is rarely performed in the US.  This month, in Moscow, Dmitri Hvorostovsky took on the the role for the first time.  Naturally, even though it was not available in our cultural wasteland, thank haven for youtube. The entire performance.

Enjoy.  It is a stunning performance, one of the best I’ve ever experienced, almost shattering.  From what I can tell, via the archives, the opera has never been performed at the Met.  Too bad someone can’t do it for Hvorostovsky.  I could make a nasty comment here that he’s not a tenor, and currently there are a couple of other truly lessor baritones who are given the plum roles.  This is a also where I mention that the partially staged concert performance was incredible.  It’s too bad the current Met management is so caught up in his own little soap opera and so abjectly incompetent that he can’t come up with original ways to get the company out debt in ways other than pawning priceless art.  Maybe it’s time the Met goes with someone a little more competent, before it goes the way of the NYCO.

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