Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Bel Canto Beauty at St George's Hanover Square: Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda

A merciless and neurotic ruler, whose right to govern is ambiguous and disputed. A dignified Queen whose star is setting, as her husband’s heart burns with new love and her lady-in-waiting betrays her. A courtier whose devotion to the Queen, his first love, is undimmed and destined to push both towards a tragic end. No, not Donizetti’s Anna Bolena but Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, written three years later, in 1833, for Venice’s La Fenice.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mikhail Kazakov as Boris Godunov [Photo © Karen Almond, Dallas Opera]
13 Apr 2011

Dallas Boris a monument to Tarkovsky

In those dark days before VCR and DVD, knowledgeable film buffs craved the return of Solaris and Stalker to a local art house screen.

Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov

Boris Godunov: Mikhail Kazakov; Marina: Elena Bocharova; The Pretender: Yevgeny Akimov; Pimen: Vitaly Efanov; Varlaam: Mikhail Kolelishvili; Rangoni: Sergei Leiferkus; Shuysky: David Cangelosi; Xenia: Oxana Shilova; Shchelkalov: Andrei Spekhov; The Hostess: Meredith Arwady; A Simpleton: Keith Jameson; Missail: Steven Haal; Fyodor: Rebecca Jo Loeb; A Nurse: Susan Nicely; Nikitich, a police officer: Mark McCrory; Mityukha: Stefan Szkafarowsky; Boyar-in-attendance: Aaron Blake; Khrushchov: Dan Crowell. Conductor: Graeme Jenkins. Original Production: Andrei Tarkovsky. Stage Director: Stephen Lawless. Production Designer: Nicolas Dvigubsky. Lighting Designer: Robert Bryan. Choreographer: Nicola Bowie. Chorus Master: Alexander Rom. Assistant Director: Matthew Ferraro. Children's Chorus Master: Melinda Cotten. Dallas Opera; Winspear Opera House, April 9, 2011.

Above: Mikhail Kazakov as Boris Godunov

Photos © Karen Almond, Dallas Opera

 

The films — Solaris, allegedly a reaction to Kubrick’s 2001, and Stalker, a major meditation in science fiction — were the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, then widely celebrated as the greatest genius of Russian film since Eisenstein.

BG_18.gifElena Bocharova as Marina Mnishek

Today, alas, Tarkovsky seems largely forgotten despite a further pair of masterpieces made after his defection from the then-still Soviet Union: Nostalghia [sic], made in Italy in 1983, and Sacrifice, in Sweden, in 1986, the year of his death. (For the latter he had the help of several Ingmar Bergman regulars.)

It was also in 1983 that Tarkovsky directed Boris Godunov at Covent Garden, and Dallas Opera is to be praised — and thanked — for bringing this production to its Winspear Opera House to conclude its current season. Stephen Lawless, who recreated the London staging in Dallas, had been Tarkovsky’s assistant at Covent Garden. His essay in the Dallas program is a tribute — both fitting and moving — to this late master. (Tarkovsky, by the way, had been the choice of Claudio Abbado who conducted the British Boris.)

Lawless speaks of this Boris as the product of “a unique apostolic succession of Russian artists,” pointing out that while Tarkovsky was influenced by Eisenstein, Eisenstein, in turn, was inspired by the epic sweep of Boris. Mussorgsky, of course, turned for his libretto to Pushkin, the father of Russian literature who had defined the Russian language.

BG_05.gifVitaly Efanov as the monk/historian Pimen and Evgeny Akimov as Grigory

This revival of Tarkovsky’s Boris might well have run aground on so much scholarship, but — happily — it did not, thanks largely to Lawless’ understanding — and appreciation — of the heritage of which he became a part in his work with this production. For it, designer Nicholas Dvigubsky has built a single set focused on a huge arch at the rear of the stage. All action flows through it. Still a work in progress, it arises out of the debris of earlier projects.

In the Coronation Scene a bell is suspended from the arch; at other times a huge ball swings ominously behind it. The people, the helpless victims of history, reside largely in darkness before the arch. A profound expression of his views, the set magnificently complements the counterpoint of the personal and political at the heart of Tarkovsky’s concept.

Born in 1932, he experienced the worst of history: the terror and deprivation of the Stalin years, the sufferings of the Great Fatherland War — as the Russians called it — and the Orwellian machinations of the post-war era. (Small wonder that — once permitted to work in the West — the director chose not to return home, even though it meant separation from his only child for his remaining years.) His Boris is both a loving father and — no matter how he got there — a leader who would be just. But — as Bert Brecht said — “the conditions just aren’t right.” Surrounded by petty ambition on all sides, he can only fail.

BG_07.gifMeredith Arwady as the cheeky Hostess of the Inn shares a lighter moment with Mikhail Kolelishvili as Varlaam, a vagabond monk.

One might wish that the production — “Boris” is presented largely as Mussorgsky intended- ended with the agonized death of the tsar, but that would leave him a sympathetic — even tragic — hero. Thus the lengthy final scene with the people — defeated again in their hopes — gather around the Simpleton — a “holy fool” in Russian — who removes his hood to stare at a shining apparition of a better world high on the stage. Tarkovsky’s view of the hopelessness of history make this a shattering — and uncomfortably contemporary — experience.

This extensive description of the production — seen on many stages since it was new — in no way overlooks the musical excellence — indeed, the musical perfection — achieved in Dallas. As its conductor DO music director Graeme Jenkins has raised his orchestra to a new level of richness and technical ease, and it must be his growing international reputation that accounts for the assembly of a mostly-Russian cast without one weak link. (Most were making Dallas Opera debuts.)

BG_29.gifThe mad Tsar Boris (Mikhail Kazakov), sensing that death is imminent, prepares his son (Rebecca Jo Loeb) to assume the throne.

Mikhail Kazarov was a Boris of unusual depth and warmth. He brought grandeur to the Coronation and made his later suffering near-palpable to the audience. Tenor Yevgeny Akimov moved the growing ambition and shifting fate of pretender Dmitri beyond theatrics, while in her selfish lust for power mezzo Elena Bocharova made Lady Macbeth an amateur. Bass Vitaly Efanov’s account of Russian history from Pimen’s chronicle radiated lyric beauty, and Sergei Leiferkus — the only member of the cast previously well known in the US- was an appropriately cunning Jesuit Rangoni. In this august constellation tenor David Cangeloni acquitted himself admirably as Shuisky, Boris’ No. 1 enemy among the Boyars. For his preparation of the many and massive chorus scenes Alexander Rom would win acclaim at the Bolshoi, and Melinda Cotton had the kids of the Opera’s Children’s Chorus singing Russian as if it were Texan slang.

In sum, an extraordinary performance of a production of Boris so earth-shaking that — one hopes — it will survive many more decades in the world’s opera houses.

Wes Blomster

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):