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59th Festival Internacional de Santander - Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov: Soloists, Orchestra and chorus of Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Ópera Chorus of Namur. Conductor: Paolo Arrivabeni. Palacio de Festivales. 3. 8.2010. (JMI)

Production from Opera Royal de Wallonie.


Direction: Petrika Ionesco.

Sets and Lighting: Petrika Ionesco.

Costumes: Lili Kendaka.




Boris Godunov: Ruggero Raimondi.

Pimen: Alexey Tikhomirov.

Shuiski: Sergey Drobyshevskiy.

Grigory: Oleg Dolgov.

Tchelkalov: Yuri Salzman.

Varlaam: Ruslan Rozyev.

Xenia: Anastassiya Privosnova.

Feodor: Julie Bailly.

Innkeeper/Housekeeper: Alina Shakirova.

Missail: Oganes Georgiyan.

The Innocent: Maxim Sazhin.


Production Picture courtesy of L’Opéra Royal de Wallonie


The Santander International Festival decided to bring the entire opera company from Liège for this performance including not only the complete stage production, but also the orchestra, conductor, the choruses and the soloists. This might have been an excellent idea if it had been the Mariinski visiting Spain, but it was more than debatable to do it with an opera company far outside of the Russian tradition. Sadly, the expected miracle simply did not happen.


This production was premiered in Liège last June and was directed by Petrika Ionesco, who also designed the sets and lighting. The sets consist of mobile panels painted with Russian Orthodox frescos and the costumes correspond to the time of the action, with good contrast between the Boyars, priests and people. The lighting is the weakest part of this production and Petrika Ionesco’s stage direction is characterised by excessive and exaggerated gestures from the crowds he has on stage which sometimes seem simply grotesque. In a sense, this is quite a superficial and traditional production which does nothing else than narrate the story. For anyone seeing Boris Godunov for the first time that’s not a bad idea, but something extra in the way of a directorial interpretation might also have been expected.



The musical reading by Paolo Arrivabeni was particularly flat and square in the first part of the opera, gaining some life from the Boyars’ scene onwards and a glance at Mr. Arrivabeni’s CV shows that he is not really a specialist in Russian opera. We were given the so-called original version of the opera, ie the cheaper one, which happens 9 out of 10 times these days, so that anyone wishing see the Polish Act and the Kromy scene will have to buy a DVD. Musically, the best elements of the evening came from the orchestra, not an outstanding group, but certainly one that was more than acceptable. This opera however needs a chorus of the very highest quality, which was not the case here.


The cast offered hardly any well known names apart from Ruggero Raimondi in the title role. The rest of the cast was rather poor, with a few exceptions.


Ruggero Raimondi has been one of the more important bass baritones over the last 40 years and in the past he was an outstanding Boris Godunov. If I recall correctly, I was fortunate to see him in this character at Madrid’s Teatro Real, 24 years ago when his performance was truly spectacular. Raimondi is the same age as Plácido Domingo, but their voices are not in the same shape. Mr. Raimondi’s has lost much of its former brightness, although he does retain a remarkable high register. Importantly though, what Raimondi has not lost are his exceptional acting skills: he remains a remarkable performer, who could give lessons to the rest of this cast.


Alexey Tikhomirov was the most important voice in the cast in the role of Pimen, although he is probably not a true bass, but rather a bass baritone like Ruggero Raimondi. Even so, in some performances in Liège he replaced Mr Raimondi and his appearances as Tsar Boris were all highly praised: an opinion which seems to me perfectly understandable. Soprano Anastassiya Privosnova made a good impression as Xenia and tenor Maxim Sazhin was an excellent Innocent.

The rest of the cast ranged from the barely acceptable to the obviously inadequate. Ruslan Rozyev was a mediocre Varlaam. Tenor Oleg Dolgov was a Grigory whose voice only shines in its top notes, while the rest of the performers caused very little interest. Yuri Salzman was a pretty mediocre and very small voiced Schelkalov and Sergey Drobyshevskiy was a weak Shuisky. Alina Shakirova doubled as the innkeeper and the nurse but in both cases she was quite often inaudible, as was also Oganes Georgiyan as Missail.


The performance was poorly attended with about 50 % of the Palacio de Festivales empty seats. The reception to the artists was warm, but without special enthusiasm and the loudest applause – understandably - went to Ruggero Raimondi.


José M Irurzun

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