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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Boris Godunov - opera in seven scenes (original 1869 version)
Boris Godunov, Tsar of Russia - Orlin Anastassov (bass); Fyodor, his son - Pavel Zubov (boy alto); Xenia, his daughter - Alessandra Marianelli (soprano); Xenia's Nurse, Elena Sommer (mezzo); Prince Vassily Ivanovich Shuisky, a Boyar - Peter Bronder (tenor); Andrei Schelkalov, secretary of the Boyars - Vasily Ladjuk (bass); Pimen, a monk - Vladimir Vaneev (bass); Grigory, the false Dimitri, - Ian Storey (tenor); Varlaam, a roistering friar- Vladimir Matorin (bass); Missail, his companion - Luca Casalin (tenor); A Simpleton - Evgeny Akimov (tenor)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Regio, Torino/Gianandrea Noseda
Stage Director and Lighting Designer: Andrei Konchalovsky.
Set Designer: Graziano Gregori
Costume Designer: Carla Teti
TV and Video director: Xavi Bovť
rec. live, Teatro Regio, Turin, 7, 10, 13 October 2010
Picture format 16:9 Anamorphic. NTSC Region Code 0. Sound format 2.0 Stereo, Dts 5.1.
Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish.
Booklet essay in English, German, French and Spanish,
bonus Interviews with Andrei Konchalovsky and Gianandrea Noseda
OPUS ARTE DVD OA1053D [147:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Recognized today as its composer's masterpiece and one of the most important operas of its genre, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov had a difficult birth and a chequered life. The composer created his own libretto. It was drawn from the historical tragedy of the same name by Alexander Pushkin and from Nikolai Karamzin's History of the Russian State. With its boldly contrasted succession of scenes and swift pace, many of Mussorgsky's contemporaries found his musical idiom strange and harsh. With todayís more adventurous tastes the terse declamation, along with differentiation of character by musical means, ensure the powerful impact of the opera is more acceptable. Itís now widely acclaimed. However, its early chaotic life with the composerís many amendments and additions, along with the re-orchestration by Moussorgskyís friend Rimsky-Korsakov, in an effort to increase the workís popularity, have left a multitude of opportunities for various critical editions. This performance largely follows that by David Lloyd-Jones of the original 1869 version plus the Kromy Forest scene from the extended 1872 edition. The bookletís introductory essay gives one of the best summaries with side-by-side comparisons of these two major versions. Regrettably, this seems to be at the cost of the normal list of Chapters with individual timings, and details of who is singing. By contrast we are afforded these particulars in the 2004 recording from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona of Willi Deckerís minimalist production recently reviewed here.

Mussorgsky began the composition of Boris Godunov in October 1868 and carried on until it was finished in its first form in December 1869. To do so he gave up his job as a civil servant in St Petersburg, then the capital of Russia. Considering the work lacked the normal components of an opera, there being no prima donna, love interest, ensembles or dancing, the Mariinsky Theatre rejected his efforts in 1871. The theatre perhaps also anticipated trouble with the censors as the work delved into Russiaís troubled past and the worries of the people. Mussorgsky added a prima female role with a love interest in a remodelled version completed in 1872; the Maryinsky also rejected this. However, extracts were given in concert and the work was accepted for publication. This time it received its theatrical premiere, with some cuts, on 27 January 1874. It was a moderate success, but after the composerís death, leaving behind four other operas uncompleted, it fell from the repertoire. In an effort to revive interest and return it to the repertoire, his friend Rimsky-Korsakov re-orchestrated the work altering melody, harmony, keys and dynamics to make it brighter and smoother. He also stated: I have not destroyed its original form, not painted over the old frescoes for ever. If ever the conclusion is arrived at that the original is better, then mine will be discarded and Boris Godunov will be performed according to the original score.

The Rimsky-Korsakov version was premiered in 1896 and with further modification in 1908. This version held sway under the influence of Chaliapin, Christoff (see review) and Ghiaurov in the title role, all of whom recorded their interpretation of Boris in this form. Later in the 1960s there was a general, albeit gradual, move back towards Mussorgsky's original with performances by the Welsh National Opera among others. This move was given a further spur by the first recording of this original version, along with all the 1872 additions, and featuring Marti Talvela in the title role (EMI 7 54377 2). Most major opera houses, as here, now follow the practice of using Mussorgskyís own music in various combinations from the two editions. His extended 1872 version, in a renowned production by Tarkovsky shared between Covent Garden and the Mariinsky Theatre, is available on DVD although in 4:3 format (Philips 075 089-9).

The events of the opera take place in Moscow and elsewhere between 1598 and 1605. They fall within what Russian historians call The Times of the Troubles between the death of Ivan (ďThe TerribleĒ) in 1584 and the establishment of the Romanov dynasty. In 1584 Fyodor, a son by Ivanís first wife succeeded him whilst her brother, Boris Godunov, established himself as the power behind the weak young king who died. Another young son by Ivanís last wife, his seventh, named Dimitri was sent away to a monastery in 1591 where he died in mysterious circumstances, believed killed by Boris or on his instructions. A rumour spread that he had not died but escaped a plot to kill him. This rumour gave rise to the appearance of a pretender to the throne in 1603, the so-called False Dimitri. Boris accepts the throne of Russia but, constantly plagued by his conscience, loses his reason and dies after telling the Boyars to accept his own young son as his rightful heir to the throne. The fate of the young boy in the hands of the devious Shuisky and Schelkalov is less certain as this production clearly implies (Ch.43).

I have described Willi Deckerís staging and sets as minimalist and struggle for another word for those in this. The severely raked stage with all its planking on view forms a base to which openings and sloped variations are added. To this stark picture the added props are minimal until the final scene when Borisís throne is joined by rows of chairs for the assembled Boyars summoned by Shuisky (Chs. 36-43). The starkness is perhaps meant to represent the then bleakness of Russian history and life. The cast are costumed realistically and in period. This adds significantly to the sense of the opera. There are some additional movements of people or persons towards the back of the stage but these are not wholly discernible as the Video Director indulges rather a lot in close-ups of the characters singing. This is particularly apparent in scene three, Pimenís Cell, where it is not immediately apparent that Grigory, the false Dimitri, is present as the old monk reads from his own writings (Chs. 10-15). Elsewhere the stage director moves the participants with appropriate meaning and purpose whilst allowing them to develop the relevant character.

The young Bulgarian Orlin Anastassov, born 1976, takes the title role. His is very much a young manís interpretation. His singing is generously toned and steady, if lacking in the sonority and vocal mellifluousness of his distinguished older compatriots Christoff (see review) and Ghiaurov in their recordings and as I heard them on the stage, albeit they sang only the Rimsky-Korsakov re-orchestrated version. I believe Anastassov sang the role of Boris previously in Monte Carlo and certainly he took that role in Borisís death scene at Christoffís 90th anniversary concert. I do not doubt he will grow into a distinguished interpreter, but in this lyrically played performance his dependence on acting predominantly with his eyes rather than with whole face, body and, above all, with greater variety of tonal timbre and weight, is a weakness. The Pimen of Vladimir Vaneev is strong-toned if somewhat monochrome whilst Ian Storey, as his scheming novice, who picks on the story to claim to be Dimitri, creates a meaningful character. Peter Bronder, sometime of the Welsh National Opera, as the scheming and fawning Shuisky does not match Philip Langridge in the Willi Decker production on Arthaus for sheer creepy spookiness. Nonetheless, he creates a worthwhile and distinctive character. As Boyar Schelkalov, his compatriot in scheming, Vasily Ladjuk sings strongly and acts with conviction. Notable too are the Fyodor of Pavel Zubov, who acts superbly, and the pleasingly sung nurse of Elena Summer. Perhaps the most notable acted and sung performance comes from Vasily Ladjuk as the roistering monk Varlaam in the Inn scene (Chs.16-21). He gets a second appearance in the Kromy Forest scene included in this production (Chs 31-35).

If Orlin Anastassovís Boris is that of a young man so too is that of Gianandrea Noseda on the rostrum. His lyrical reading fails to bring out the harshness that is within the story and also the composerís music. The post-Ivan Russia of the story was a more brutal place than this musical interpretation brings out. The conductor seems to master this best where the vibrant choruses are involved rather than in the monologues and quickly-moving historical scenes. The chorus of Nosedaís fellow Italians, singing phonetically and appropriately costumed, do well and bring vitality and meaning to the plot when they are involved either as peasants in the opening scene as they call for Boris to accept the crown (Chs.2-6), in the Coronation Scene (Chs.7-9), in the Kromy Forrest or as Boyars in the final scene and at Borisís death (Chs.36-43).

The bonus interview with Noseda is more cogent and interesting than that of the director. I suggest you play it before watching the performance.

Robert J Farr


































































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