Rachmaninov wrote only three operas, Aleko, The Miserly Knight (1906, written between the second and third piano concerti) and Francesca da Rimini. The story of 'The Miserly Knight' is essentially philosophical, presented as the tale of how greed robs people of their humanity. It is adapted from Pushkin, and retains most of the elements of Pushkin's blank verse poem.
This is a thought-provoking psychological work set to dark and haunting music. It is not the Rachmaninov of the piano concerti; less lyrical and more dramatic, but just as appealing, with great melodic orchestral sweeps. It is written in the style of German opera - no actual arias to remain in the memory, but very musical (read: listenable and enjoyable) recitative employing leitmotivs. The 'musical' progression comes more from the drama, which leads the music.
This is an opera that must be done well to succeed, and on this performance it succeeds in every respect. It is a masterpiece, and makes you wish that Rachmaninov had written more operas.
The original setting is England in Medieval times, but like so many productions, it has been modernized into an abstract setting of indefinite period. This works well, except for the appearance of one character in a modern suit. The musical performance, as others have observed, is wonderful. The opera was written for Chaliapin, and the Russian baritone, Sergei Leiferkus, is marvelous in that role of the 'miserly Knight', especially in a 20 minute monolog in the second scene. This amazing passage justifies buying the DVD just for that passage alone.
Most of the small cast is Russian and there is not one weak link. Jarowski, with one of the world's greatest orchestras, captures the unique Russian feel, and interprets every part of the score perfectly.
If you look at my reviews, they are nearly all 5 stars: this is because I only review releases that I think are excellent, wanting to share an enjoyable performance with others. This release is an absolute must for every lover of late-romantic opera, (it deserves 6 stars), one of the best releases of any genre it has been my pleasure to review. Recorded with high-definition cameras, and with top-rate 5.1 sound engineering; this coupled with excellent camera work and direction (I was looking for Brian Large's name in the credits, in vain) you are provided with a technically first-class record of the performance. Sound, 5.1 DTS, image 16:9, duration approx. 95 minutes.. (If you know someone with a large screen projection system, say 100" or more) and good surround sound, prevail on them to let you watch this on such a system). Buy it.