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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

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):