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 Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

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):