If conductor Valery Gergiev were known for nothing more than bringing obscure operas to light, he would still have a place in history. His valiant advocacy of some of Prokofiev's more obscure work is a case in point, and "Semyon Kotko" must be one of the best examples. It's a shame this work hasn't been performed or recorded more often, since it has all the dramatic impact you could want, and some terrific music.
I was fortunate to see this live in the summer of 2003, performed by Gergiev and the Kirov Opera at the Lincoln Center Festival. The vivid production alone would have made an impact, but the fact is that this opera has some of Prokofiev's most striking, not to mention listenable music. In Act III, for example, when the small village in the story is destroyed, the score reaches a terrifying climax (among other memorable sequences) with a starring role for Olga Savova, who is just one standout in the committed cast.
Perhaps it's the opportunity to bring to life a seldom-done score, but everyone sings with go-for-broke intensity, and the orchestra -- wow, this orchestra -- is up to its usual high standard. The sound quality is also quite good, as are most of these in this Philips series. The libretto includes a few photographs from the Kirov production as well.
It is almost unthinkable that this score might still be lounging around in some library, waiting for a guide like Gergiev to show us that there is something valuable within. For those who love Prokofiev, unusual opera or are just admirers of the conductor's impressive output with the Kirov, this can be easily recommended.