The Snow Maiden: “Winter is here, forever.”

Have you ever wondered what an eternal winter would feel like? The never-ending chill of the snow and the constant pitter patter of woodland creatures scampering around. Frankly that sounds rather nice, far nicer than the actual opera itself. The Snow Maiden is the story of an aggrieved bride who wants revenge against her ex-fiancé for jilting her so goes to see the Tsar. That story in itself is quite enjoyable, which is disappointing as the bride isn’t actually the titular Snow Maiden. The Snow Maiden’s story is of her wanting to be free from her father (the personification of Winter) to live her life. That’s right, it’s as boring as it sounds. There’s no need for Sean Bean, winter is not coming, it’s already here…and it’s never leaving.

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The Snow Maiden is part of Opera North’s fairy tale season, but it was nowhere near as entertaining as Hansel and Gretel, though a witch that eats children could have helped with the pacing issues. To say this is a long opera is an understatement, it had an estimated runtime of 3 hours (not including the interval) but it certainly felt much longer. Every conversation seemed to need at least five songs devoted to it, and with it being sung in english then you really started to notice when the same sentence was sung multiple times in a row. This gets tedious really quickly, at least if it was sung in Russian it would have had more mystery to it.

I always worry when cast changes are announced right before a show starts, and for the performance I saw then both the Snow Maiden herself and the Tsar had to be replaced due to illness, so the performance I’ve reviewed will likely be different to other nights. The pacing and lack of anything happening aside, then it could have had potential. The bride (Elin Pritchard) was easily the star of the show. She brought gravitas, humour, sadness and fury to the role of a jilted bride. I seriously feel that without her there wouldn’t have been any redeeming factors to this opera. Opera North marketed this opera as their “first ever staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s delightful Russian opera” and I feel that sums it all up really, it was their first ever staging. If this was an opera popular outside of Russia then surely Opera North would have attempted it before now. It ends in a massively unoriginal Romeo and Juliet-esque way, but by that point I was so bored with it that any ending was a good ending.

Opera North have at least consistently shown they can use video imagery to create snow fall and dark woods, so visually it was impressive. Overall the dancing was also very good, though I was a little disappointed at the apparent lack of traditional Russian folk dancing. It ended up feeling like it could have been set anywhere with snow and fur coats.

The interval was its own adventure. Being under 30 (though not by much) then I was corralled off into the Howard Assembly Room for a free glass of “bubbly”. Whereas I’m sure 18 year olds would love that sort of thing then it didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Teens running around in high heels and extremely short skirts cheapened the evening, especially when the squeals of excitement started once the photo booth had been spotted.

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If you’re older than these girls then you’re too old to enjoy it.

Whereas Hansel and Gretel was able to capture the feel of a fairy-tale while still being exciting and funny, then The Snow Maiden did the complete opposite. The Snow Maiden runs until the 24th March, but you’d probably find it more enjoyable to see Hansel and Gretel instead.

Carl

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