Review: After Met Opera milestone, ‘Boris’ brings another
You may have heard of the widely publicized landmark with which the Metropolitan Opera opened its season on Monday: Terrence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” its first work by a black composer. Flying Under the Radar is a less important but nonetheless significant milestone that followed Tuesday, when the company finally demonstrated the original 1869 version of Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.”
Opera is littered with competing versions and unclear official intentions. Does the Giulietta act in “Les Conts d’Hoffmann” go before or after the Antonia act? Do you sing Verdi’s masterpiece as “Don Carlo” in Italian or – as the Met will do for the first time in its history later this winter – in native French, as “Don Carlos”?
But perhaps no major work bothers as much as “Boris Godunov”. Mussorgsky had never written an opera when he composed an often brutal, raw, deeply sober, strangely extravagant score about a troubled jar and his troubled country. We’re not entirely sure why it was rejected by the Imperial Theater Directorate, but the main reason may be for one simple reason: the piece lacked a major female character.
So Mussorgsky modified (perhaps even happily), adding material — which includes Marina, a leading lady — and taking out; A version of that version premiered in 1874. Then, after Mussorgsky’s death, his friend Rimsky-Korsakov took it upon himself to rearrange, rearrange, and sometimes remodel the work to make it more colorful and less conspicuous. took. It sounds reprehensible to us, but without Rimsky “Boris” would never have entered international repertoire at the beginning of the 20th century.
Over the past 50 years, as part of a general practice to present art as envisioned by its creators, Rimsky’s brilliant interventions fell from grace in favor of Mussorgsky’s stark orchestration. But his revised, post-1869 version remains the norm. Or, more accurately, an amalgamation: the available options acted as a sort of grab bag, with sequences and fragments placed or discarded, and ordered in various sequences. (All of this is possible, given how strange and relevant the work is, as well as how compelling it is in almost any form.)
It was therefore not unusual that, when the current production of the Met premiered in 2010, it could include, among other options, both the Act set in Poland (from Mussorgsky’s revised edition) and scenes from St. That was cut after 1869. It was a massive, two-timeout affair of about four and a half hours.
The 1869 version, which is still rare, is almost half a single act of seven scenes presented at the Met without intermissions. (The version being performed is by Michael Rot.) It is by no means abbreviated “Boris”. But moderated by Sebastian Weigl with calm, masterful clarity and seriousness, it is certainly a sizzling evening, a sour shot of a demanding, easily manipulated populace and leader whom the crowd alternately admires and condemns: The title character, after coming to power by privately murdering the 8-year-old heir to the crime-ridden throne.
Lithe, too, is an almost set-less staging of the Met, which was taken last minute by the director, Stephen Wadsworth, in 2010 and which works well in this version, allowing for fluid scene changes and Mussorgsky’s original. Indicates penance of vision. . His orchestra does not function by itself as a Wagner-style character, nor as a melodic interlocutor. (There are not many melodies.) Instead, it serves as a persuasive undertone and atmosphere for exposed vocal lines in line with the rhythms of Russian speech – anticipating Debussy’s “Peles et Melisande”, which stuns with “Boris” and “Boris”. Borrows audibly from Gensek. Handled skillfully, the technique allows the opera to be talkative while always flowing forward.
And it was a cast of sonorous, vocal vocals, led by bass René Pep, the star of the production since 2010, his voice as lit and safe as ever. If Puppy’s tonal pleasures often come at the expense of vivid characterization—such as in his graceful, monotonous gurgling in Wagner’s “Parsifal”—he fits the restraint of this conductor, chorus, and production.
The stage is the occasion for several accomplished mate debuts: Bass en Anger, commanding as the monk Pimen, who predicts Boris’s downfall; tenor David Butt Philip, bright yet brooding as Grigory, who declares himself to be Dmitry, the supposedly rightful heir to the throne, has been killed; Baritone Alexei Bogdanov, firm and clear as the nobleman Shelkalov; And tenor Maxim Pastor, bronze-toned and eccentric as Prince Shuisky.
Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, best vocalist on “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” has the same rich, unexpected power here as the drunken monk Varlaam. Both are excellent, as mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn, an edgy tavern hostess, and tenor Miles Mykkanen as the Pleasant Holy Fool who hunts Boris.
Should we prefer the 1869 original? I actually find the ending of the Revised Edition – the angry mob, hooked on the revolution, yet this time flipped in cowardly rapture by the false Dmitry – to be more effective and haunting than the curtain falling over Boris’s death. For the sweet performance here, especially in all of Pep’s as well. But I don’t recall the Polish Act, which always seems a little different in its deployment of operational conventions. And the work’s general pessimism seems better suited to its original brevity than to the more epic scale.
My answer – today, at least – is yes.
until October 17 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; metopera.org.
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