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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Boris Godunov (1869 version)
Boris – Matti Salminen (bass)
Fyodor - Brian Asawa (counter-tenor)
Xenia - Marie Arnet (soprano)
Xenia’s Nurse - Stefania Toczyska (alto)
Prince Vassily Ivanovich Shuisky – Philip Langridge (tenor)
Andrei Shchelkalov – Albert Shagidullin (bar)
Pimen – Eric Halvarson (bass)
Grigory the Pretender – Pär Lindskog (tenor)
Varlaam – Anatoly Kotcherga (bass)
Missail – Jose Manuel Zapata (bass)
Landlady – Itxaro Mentxaka (mezzo)
Simpleton – Alex Grigoriev (tenor)
Nikitich – David Pittman-Jennings (bass)
Dmitri – Ferran Ilari (non-singing role)
Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Musica Catalana/Jordi Casas i Bayer
Cor Vivaldi – IPSI – Petits Cantors de Catalunya/Oscar Boada
Orquestra Simfonica i Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu/Sebastian Weigle; William Spalding (chorus master)
Director; Willy Decker
Set and Costume Design: John MacFarlane
Directed for television and video by Xavi Boré
Recorded live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, October 2004, Picture format NTSC 16:9 Region Code 0 , Dolby Digital Surround 5. 1 and LPCM Stereo, Subtitles, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Catalan. Liner notes, English, German, French and Spanish

Willy Decker’s 2004 production of the 1869 version of Boris Godunov is a minimalist staging which gives plenty of space for the tragedy, both individual and national, to unfold. This is a co-production with De Nederlandse Opera, Amsterdam.

Boris’s ascent to power, literally over the dead body of the Tsarevitch Dmitri, is symbolised by a great golden chair which he eventually climbs having been persuaded by the boyars and the people. This chair features throughout the opera, acting as a gauge for the well-being of the Tsar and the government of Russia, sometimes on its side, sometimes upright, and eventually carrying the diminutive figure of Boris’s son Fyodor.

The dead Dmitri is never far from the scene either, being present either as a corpse or as a photographic icon, in which form he appears throughout most of the action, a symbol of the crime which haunts Boris and eventually leads him to insanity and death.

As is common these days, the characters are in modern dress with Boris on occasion being robed in gold. Presumably we are, once again, being reminded that the corruption of power is a timeless subject. This is hardly news, but in this case it doesn’t detract from the power of the story, carried out as it must be mainly through the abstract vision of Boris, Pimen and Grigory, all of whom are interpreting history, their roles and their actions almost without reference to the outside world.

The singing throughout is hard to fault, with Matti Salminen in particular playing this role with his usual power and authority. He has sometimes seemed to be too nice a man to play truly wicked characters, but in the case of Boris this is a strength, allowing us to see the madness and vulnerability of the man as it gradually unfolds. His voice is as splendid as ever with, as usual, a great range of expression with which he illuminates the decline of Boris. I found the singing of Brian Asawa, the counter-tenor who plays Fyodor, not to my taste – I prefer the more usual convention of having a mezzo in the role – but this might be a personal preference which won’t trouble other listeners. Philip Langridge (Shuisky) and Eric Halvarson (Pimen) are in great form both vocally and as interpreters of their roles. Together with Salminen they make this a Boris which needs to be heard.

The pace at first seems a little slow, especially in the coronation scene, maybe going for grandeur rather than impetus. Having said that, the rest of the performance is taut and engrossing and well illustrates the sense of going with the earlier version of the score. The omission of the Polish scene in particular for me removes an entirely pointless excursion into the realms of romance, and lets the opera focus on the real drama around Boris - as it should. The stereo sound is well up to TDK’s usual standards.

This is an excellent Boris and is well worth adding to any collection.

Lynette Kenny 


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