It is a concert performance, given and broadcast in Vienna in 1979, with one result being reasonably good sound. Another result is that the performers seem to warm up as they go, really hitting their strides about halfway through. In the case of Plácido Domingo, that could have been because he learned the role over a weekend, filling in for an ailing member of the planned cast. He is nevertheless one of the drawing cards of this recording, as is the presence of the young Italian soprano Mara Zampieri as the romantic lead Elaisa; her sheer dynamic range, with a slashing, edgy fortissimo, is impressive, as was the late-'70s engineering that captured it for posterity.
Opera lies at the heart of Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourful idiom, but performances are few and far between; this realisation of his penultimate and grandest stage work is a very rare and special experience. Kitezh is known as ‘the Russian Parsifal’, which encapsulates its mystical flavour and steady unfolding of a legend of redemption. A largely Russian cast (headed by the stunning Svetlana Ignatovich) and production team works within a set that moves from opulent naturalistic scenery to some startling theatrical coups worthy of Rimsky’s underrated dramatic instincts.