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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov [Photo by Catherine Ashmore]
16 Mar 2016

Boris Godunov, Covent Garden

‘And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ John Donne’s metaphysical meditation might have made a fitting sub-title for Richard Jones’s new production of Musorgky’s Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House — the first performance in the house of the original 1869 score.

Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov [Photo by Catherine Ashmore]

 

Bells loom large in Miriam Buether’s well-considered design which, paradoxically, combines complexity and clarity. The grey granite blocks of the cathedral-like walls which frame the stage — suggesting both Public Square and monastery interior — are embossed with replications of the Tsar Bell of the Kremlin. Three bells — dark projections — hang in the belfry about Pimen’s cell in the Chudov Monastery. And, we hear the carillons too, when the great bells clang in joyful cacophony in herald of Boris’s coronation, a clarion riot that foreshadows the more sombre knelling that will later echo throughout Russia.

Buether’s split-level set is plain and dark which makes the intermittent splashes of colour all the more melodramatic. Lit with a garish yellow glow, an arched aperture hangs above a bare blank stage and serves as both corridor of power and assassin’s alley. It is here that Jones sites his central motif, establishing the opera as an astute psychological study in responsibility and remorse. Before a note is heard we witness a mime in which three hooded cut-throats creep up upon the unsuspecting Dmitri — a carefree youth, with a shock of red hair, who nonchalantly plays with his spinning top — and slash his throat, in ghastly slow motion, while a troubled-looking Boris hunches in the Novodevichy Monastery below.

Throughout the production, Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting design conjures skulking shadows; here, they blur deceptively with the black-clad figures, suggesting an even more numerous murderous posse. This dreadful dumb-show is repeatedly re-enacted — a looping re-play in Boris’s subconscious. Later, the distressed Tsar grabs his son Fyodor’s own whirligig and smashes it to the ground, but the pantomime — a ceaseless, tormenting merry-go-round of sin and retribution — cannot be so easily erased.

The ensemble is superb, but naturally the spotlight falls sharpest — both figuratively and literally, for Boris is frequently exposed to a penetrating bright glare which illuminates both his majesty and vulnerability — on Bryn Terfel, singing the role of the guilt-plagued Tsar for the first time. As a bass-baritone, Terfel may not be able to summon the sonorous darkness of a basso profundo — though his bass is by no means lacking in resonance — but the role does serve as a showcase for his dramatic and vocal prowess; and, he is able to negotiate the higher lying passages with flexibility and smoothness, conveying extreme emotions through both legato lyricism and soft-breathed fragmentation. His hallucinatory monologues are discomfortingly compelling.

Terfel’s Boris is no histrionic monster. And if, initially, he seems to hold something in reserve emotionally, this later seems to be part of a carefully judged slow-release of growing torment, which builds unstoppably to tragic confrontation and catharsis. Terfel finds the man beneath the stateliness; this is a father whose love for his children is tactile, intense and unwavering. He trades the simple attire of a boyar for the glittering glamour of his creme and gold coronation robes, but at the close Boris is a dishevelled, pitiful figure — body and mind in disarray: grey-haired, fur-coated, bare-footed, staggering and swaying like a wild Old Testament prophet. The contrast between Terfel’s physical stature and psychological vulnerability is deeply poignant.

Terfel’s prowess is matched by several other stand-out performances. As Pimen, the Estonian bass Ain Anger delivers a narration of his country’s misdemeanours and miracles which burns with intensity, as he stands before a story-board chronicle of Russian history upon which portraits of three former Tsars are followed by an unfinished likeness of the red-haired Dmitri.

In this monastery cell the Pretender’s career as the False Dmitry is launched, and David Philip Butt projects Grigory’s lofty romanticism with strong projection, lending the anti-hero a Byronic dimension. John Graham-Hall is superb as a sinister, sycophantic Shuisky, singing with sly sleekness; Kostas Smoriginas makes fine use of his dark, weighty bass, and crafts an appealing legato line, when announcing Boris’s refusal to become Tsar and foretelling Russia’s doom.

Contrast is offered by the exaggerated comedy of the scene at the Lithuanian border, where Rebecca de Pont Davies’ blowsy Innkeeper welcomes the two monks, Varlaam (John Tomlinson — a former Boris in this house — who blew the roof off, obviously enjoying the grotesquery) and his drinking companion Missail (Harry Nicoll). And, in the Tsar’s apartments — where a map marks Russia’s territories in red, as if the land is bathed in blood — sweet-toned relief is offered by Xenia (Vlada Borovko), who laments the death of her fiancé, and her Nurse (Sarah Pring), who tries to console her.

Andrew Tortise is very effective as the blessed Simpleton, sporting a tin hat reminiscent of the hoods of the assassins and border guards, foretelling disasters and defaming Boris. The Holy Fool’s obsessive hand-washing gestures during Boris’s demand for prayer send an ominous message. The role of Fyodor is sung by Ben Knight, his bright, clean soprano conveying a welcome freshness and innocence.

Antonio Pappano led the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in an impassioned and rich reading of the score, relishing its idiosyncrasies, and creating — through the powerful pizzicato tread of the cellos and bass - an unrelenting march towards exposure and death.

But, the quieter sequences were just as telling as the grandiose climaxes — particularly, the episodes with plangent, yearning woodwind accompaniment — and were notable for the way in which subtle tensions and anxieties were illuminated. At the emotional apexes, though, Pappano held nothing back, whipping the Orchestra and Chorus to magnificent peaks of sound. In the stunning opening scenes, the impact of the Chorus’s vocal power was matched by the vibrant primary colours of their celebratory dress, as they lined up like rows of matryoshka dolls. When, in Scene 6, they gathered outside St Basil’s Cathedral to denounce the Pretender their passive submission to deprivation and despair was heart-breakingly signalled by the beautiful lyricism of their folk-song begging the Tsar to save them.

In 1871 the Imperial Theatres directorate rejected Musorgsky’s score, on the principal charge that it contained no role for prima donna. Today, one can imagine that the original version’s compressed intensity — and its smaller cast and less lavish sets — appeal to opera companies, particularly in these financially austere times.

Jones and Pappano fashion a captivating, coherent narrative from Musorgsky’s loosely connected episodes — an uninterrupted two hours of compelling music-drama. Though historians have exonerated Boris of guilt in the death of the Tsarevich, the myth of a man driven by ambition to commit murder in the pursuit of power, a crime that returns to haunt him to madness and the grave, is — as Shakespeare knew — compelling. As we witness Terfel’s Boris lose his hold first on his country and then on his life, there can surely be little doubt that Musorgsky’s opera is a masterpiece. And, Jones’s final motif, as Grigory enters the raised corridor, his silver knife-blade gleaming menacingly in an ominous mirror-image of the opening assassination, is a masterstroke.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Boris Godunov — Bryn Terfel, Prince Shuisky —John Graham-Hall, Andrey Shchelkalov —Kostas Smoriginas, Grigory Otrepiev —David Butt Philip, Pimen — Ain Anger, Varlaam — John Tomlinson, Missail — Harry Nicoll, Yurodivy (Holy Fool) —Andrew Tortise, Xenia —Vlada Borovko, Xenia's Nurse —Sarah Pring, Hostess of the inn —Rebecca de Pont Davies, Mityukha —Adrian Clarke, Frontier Guard — James Platt, Nikitich — Jeremy White, Fyodor — Ben Knight, Boyar — Nicholas Sales; Director —Richard Jones, Conductor —Antonio Pappano, Set designer —Miriam Buether, Costume designer —Nicky Gillibrand, Lighting designer —Mimi Jordan Sherin, Movement director — Ben Wright, Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Monday 14th March 2016.

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):