The New York City Opera ended the first of its two weeks in the Kennedy Center on Saturday night with a wonderfully amusing, highly colorful account of Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy opera, "The Golden Cockerel." The strongly satirical work, which has never before been given a major production in Washington, will be repeated on Friday night. It is well worth a trip to the Opera House.
Underlying the adaptation of a Pushkin fairly tale is a large amount of poking fun at the ineptness of military planning with arguments for and against vast preparedness. King Dodon his chief of staff, and his two timid sons, Guidon and Afron dominate the first of the two acts. They are richly supported by the arrival of a mysterious astrologer and his fantastic golden cockerel which can predict danger.
The second act brings the deaths not only of both the king's sons but nearly his entire army. The weight of this grief is dispelled quickly, however; ever, by the arrival of an exotic, seductively beautiful Queen of Shemakha.
When the astrologer asks for the queen in return for his gift of the golden bird, King Dodon kills him and is then killed by the cockerel, at which the queen disappears and the populace is left to mourn them. The whole thing is, after all, only an illusion.
The staging of the opera is witty, full of the lore of Russian folk tales and humor. Its English translation, nearly all of which could be fully caught, is the work of Antal Dorati in company with James Gibson. A times its Gilbert-and-Sullivanish flavor works against the obvious Russianisms of the original.
The outstanding cast is headed by Abram Morales whose voice is astonishing as it ascends into some of the highest regions ever touched by a tenor. His astrologer is matched by William Wildermann's fine singing and acting as Dodon, a role often sung by the late Ezio Pinza. Faye Robinsons is more a lyric soprano than the kind of coloratura best suited to the range and agility of the queen, but she makes much of the part.
Imre Pallo conducted the score - much of which is familiar from orchestral concerts - in elegant style. The sets and costumes of Ming Cho Lee and Jose Varona are a delight.