Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Samuel Ramey (Boris Godunov) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
04 Nov 2008

Boris Godunov at San Francisco Opera

As performed just now by the San Francisco Opera Mussorgsky’s initial (1869), seven scene version of Boris Godunov revealed itself a finished masterpiece.

Above: Samuel Ramey (Boris Godunov)

All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

As recently as 1992 SFO still made use of an “improved” version of this magnificent opera — Mussorgsky’s own so-called definitive version (1872), improved in that it provided a role for a diva, added a resplendent ball scene and included the pretender Dimitri’s march to Moscow.

The fate of Mussorgsky’s Boris gets even more complicated because after his death his friend Rimsky-Korsakov did him the favor of improving his vocal lines and his orchestration, and then 50 years later Soviet composer Shostakovitch improved the Rimsky-Korsakov version. San Franciscans know all three musical versions, in the early years it was the Rimsky-Korsakov, but as one of the world’s progressive companies in the 1970’s San Francisco Opera was among the first to recover Mussorgsky’s original orchestration. The more recent 1992 staging offered, gratefully, the fine Shostakovitch version.

PimenGrigory.pngVitalij Kowaljow (Pimen) and Vsevolod Grivnov (Grigory)
This twelfth San Francisco Opera staging of Boris Godunov is the first time that San Franciscans will see Mussorgsky’s original seven scenes. The profound concentration of the audience (10/30/08) made it apparent that there was not one note too many, nor one note too few. It was a performance of perfection, our hearts and minds focused, with Mussorgsky, on the power, the fear and the anguish of Pushkin’s guilty czar Boris.

Never mind that modern historians do not find Boris guilty of murdering the czarevitch Dimitri, Pushkin and Mussorgsky did, thus Boris lives in history as a magnanimous ruler tormented by the crime that made him the ruler of Russia. Boris is a man who is kind to his children and his people, and brutally cruel to his enemies. Obsessed by the terrible guilt of murder, he understands that his crime will inflict unspeakable suffering onto the Russian people.

The program booklet attributes this production to Norwegian theater director Stein Winge, who staged Boris at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in 1993. These fifteen years later any reference to his original staging is surely coincidental, though the rudiments of his conception still exist in the huge abstract wooden structure, a massive skateboard ramp that is the stage, and the magnificent costumes that seem to have jumped out of the museum paintings that commemorate this turbulent period of Russian history. Though the production hardly reflects current operatic thought, it is timeless in concept, the powerful image of the land and state made only of wood and therefore as vulnerable to easy destruction as are Russia’s forests and her wooden churches, palaces and villages.

Mussorgsky’s opera is really only a few scenes from Pushkin’s huge play of the same name. These scenes are intoned over music, a sort of opéra dialoguée though Mussorgsky’s Boris adds the historical social moment with huge, beseeching choruses, the wily songs of countryside peasantry, and the landscape itself echoing in the tonal magnificence of church bells. Its biggest moments are however its most intimate moments, the two monologues that tell of the czarevitch’s murder, Boris’ great soliloquy and then his death, and the moral authority of Boris’ nemesis — an idiot — in a simple song.

Simpleton.pngAndrew Bidlack (The simpleton)
Nothing is ever perfect, least of all this San Francisco Opera production, but the word perfect lingers because of the many fine performances turned in. Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky brought Mussorgsky’s score radiantly alive in the huge chorus scenes, and brilliantly detailed the musical colors of the monologues, eloquently stating the ironies of Mussorgsky’s leitmotifs.

Mo. Sinaisky was particularly effective with his Russian speaking colleagues. The heroic tenor of Vsevolod Grivnov rang with the opportunism of Dimitri, the warm, well produced voice of bass Vitalij Kowaljow gave strong presence to the old monk/chronicler Pimen, bass Vladimir Ognovenko made the wily, corrupt Varlaam into an infatuating caricature of a mendicant monk. Tenor John Uhlenhopp gave a beautifully sung and brilliantly graphic characterization of the treacherous prince, Shuisky, and mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook offered an absolutely believable raunchy Innkeeper.

Perhaps bass Samuel Ramey was once perfection itself as the czar Boris Godunov. At this point in what has been a distinguished career only the shell of a voice remains. He held himself at a strange distance from Boris, seeming only occasionally to make contact with either the vocal line or the Boris character. By contrast his son Fyodor was brought alive by twelve year old Jack Gorlin, in an extraordinary performance that was vocally, musically and histrionically that of a finished artist.

The cast is large, thus San Francisco Opera made a lot of use of its artists-in-training program, the Adler Fellows. Soprano Ji Young Yang was perfect as the Czar’s daughter Xenia, and tenor Matthew O’Neill was masterful as the rogue monk Missail. The commanding stature of whip cracking baritone Kenneth Kellogg was effective. Soprano Daveda Karanas functioned as the Nurse to the Czar’s children. The casting of a young artist-in-training as the Simpleton was unfortunate. Tenor Andrew Bidlack could not contribute the complex stature needed for this role, nor does he possess the purity of voice color appropriate to the simplicity and emotional import of this daunting personage.

PrinceEntrance.jpgJohn Uhlenhopp (Prince Shuisky)

The current stage director for this widely traveled production was Julia Pevzner who moved people on and off stage as needed, but seemed to have left the huge cast otherwise helpless. The brilliant, now dated set for this 1993 Geneva production was designed by Sweden’s Goran Wassberg, the sumptuous costumes the work of Norwegian designer Kari Gravklev.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):