Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



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):