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 Reviews

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Boris Godunov</em>, ROH at the Proms
18 Jul 2016

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Boris Godunov, ROH at the Proms

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bryn Terfel as Boris Godunov

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

Last year saw him at the helm of Grange Park Opera’s performance of Fiddler on the Roof, as the deep-thinking Russian dairyman, Tevye, whose Jewish cultural traditions are threatened by both his daughters’ nuptial plans and the Tsar’s political strategy to expel the Jews from the Anatevka shtetl (review). This year he returned as Boris Godunov, the guilt-racked Tsar plagued by his conscience, superstition and insecurities, driven to despair and death by deceit and doubt.

The Royal Opera House de-camped to the west side of town for this concert performance of Richard Jones’ production of Musorgsky’s opera, seen at Covent Garden in March (review), conducted by Antonio Pappano. There was no attempt to ‘semi-stage’ the work, other than a few token gestures. For example, the newly crowned Boris made his first appearance in the organ console, behind and above his adulating people - a magnificent sight in ceremonial crème and gold, but less successful vocally as Terfel struggled to project from this distant placement. But, the decision to avoid too much stage business was probably a sensible one, especially given the 1869 version performed here focuses less on the conflict between Boris and his people than on the tortures within his own mind. With the protagonists delivering their long orations and narratives from the front of the stage, an intense immediacy was created as they seemed to be speaking directly to the Prommers before them, overcoming the Albert Hall’s capacious dimensions.

Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes and make-up were retained but Jones’ and Miriam Buether’s designs were largely dispensed with, and there were both gains and losses from the omission of the visual symbolism and the choreographic dimension - with the gains perhaps in the ascendant.

On the down side, the involvement of the Chorus in the dramatic denouement was lessened. This was in no way a consequence of the quality of the choral singing, which was superlative. The Royal Albert Hall has witnessed countless choral apotheoses over the years, but the power and passion of the Russian populace’s acclamation of their new Tsar, as Boris emerges from the Cathedral of the Assumption in the opening scene, must have equalled the best of them. Although they were seated behind the ROH Orchestra, quite distant from the action, it was evident that each individual member of the Chorus was deeply alert to the musico-dramatic arguments being presented by the various soloists.

However, the Chorus’s engagement with the drama was inevitably somewhat ‘at a remove’, and this was especially noticeable in the fourth Act where unrest grows among the people who gather in the square before the Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed, and in desperation and hunger beg the shocked Tsar to give them bread. The result was that Boris seemed less concerned about the popular dissent that his past crime may have caused and more obsessed with his inner struggles and suspicions; while this sharpened the psychological portrait of the Tsar, the tender lyricism of the people’s folk-song appeal for alms was less poignant.

The iconic replication of the Tsar Bell of the Kremlin had been a powerful emblem in Buether’s designs; here the duplications in embossed granite and the dark projections which hung in the belfry about Pimen’s cell in the Chudov Monastery were reduced to an ultramarine frieze behind the performers. The carillons which clang in joyful cacophony during the Coronation Scene resounded from the RAH Gallery, but they were both too detached from the drama - Prommers were distracted from the stage as they swivelled to see where the clarion was coming from - and rather too loud.

There were a couple of places where I wondered whether projections might have been used to substitute for elements of Buether’s design that had had great impact at Covent Garden. For example, the story-board chronicle of Russian history which is a back-drop for Pimen’s narration - and upon which portraits of three former Tsars are followed by an unfinished likeness of the red-haired, murdered Dmitri - and the huge map which dominated the Tsar’s apartments upon which the Russian territories were signalled red, as if the land is bathed in blood, might have been recreated in this way. But, on the plus side, out went the repetitive intrusion of the mimed murder of Dmitri and the profusion of spinning tops.

So much depends upon the Tsar’s grandeur and guilt, and although Bryn Terfel, as I remarked in March ‘may not be able to summon the sonorous darkness of a basso profundo’, he once again excelled and showed what a fine singing-actor he is. This time round his Tsar was even more isolated, trapped within the claustrophobic torment of his own mind and drawn only momentarily from his anguish by the presence of his children Fyodor (a sweet-toned Ben Knight) and Xenia (Vlada Borovko).

If the Tsar’s psychological loneliness lessened the dramatic weight of these familial scene, then it deepened our understanding of Boris’s despair and decline. Left alone in the Tsar’s apartments, Terfel’s desperate, hallucinatory reflections on his five-year reign - he is blamed for everything, even the death of Xenia’s fiancé and the poisoning of his own sister - revealed a lack of proportion and reason which will push him into an inexorable physical and mental deterioration.

And in the final scenes this deterioration was laid bare: grey, dishevelled and lurching wildly, this was a man on a precipice. Terfel used every aspect of his voice to growl with fury at the Simpleton, and bellow at the duplicitous Shuisky, whom he both distrusts and fears, while the soft articulation of the higher-lying passages conveyed the Tsar’s affection for his son, and his psychological fragility.

Terfel was joined by an outstanding cast, many of whom were reprising their roles. Estonian bass Ain Anger was once again marvellous as Pimen. He delivered his account of his country’s past ills and wonders with such magisterial authority that one longed to hear what intensity he might bring to the role of Boris.

David Philip Butt conveyed Grigory’s haughty and somewhat gauche idealism effectively, while John Graham-Hall injected his smooth tenor with a sinister nuance as the obsequious but self-serving Shuisky, though the lack of staging meant that dramatically his role had less clear direction and he often seemed to be just hanging around in the side-lines.

The smaller roles were just as strongly performed. Jeremy White’s Police Officer hurled out brusque insults to the cowering populace; Kostas Smoriginas sang Andrei Shchelkalov’s announcement to the people that Boris has refused to become Tsar with a noble, legato line.

John Tomlinson’s grotesque comic turn as Varlaam had been one of the highlights of the Covent Garden performances, but he was absent here and the scene at the Lithuanian border was weakened by the lack of visual context and contrast. Rebecca de Pont Davies’ was a blowsy gregarious Innkeeper, though, and the two wandering monks, Varlaam (Andrii Goniukov) and his drinking buddy Missail (Harry Nicoll) added a dash of japery, including a deft percussive contribution on the musical spoons.

Even though the Simpleton was denied the opportunity to play directly to the populace, Andrew Tortise was again excellent as he foretold of forthcoming disaster and defamed Boris before a crowd of mischievous urchins.

I enjoyed the opportunity, too, to see Antonio Pappano guide the Orchestra of the Royal Opera, rather than simply hear the results. Peering into the ROH pit I’ve sometimes wondered how the baton-less Pappano’s hyperactive ‘hand-pumping’ and vigorous arm-swinging is interpreted by the players, but now it makes perfect sense. Pappano is like an electricity generator, ceaselessly pumping out energy which surges through each and every performer. I think that some of the orchestral subtleties were lost in the vastness of the RAH, but the crafting of the over-arching tensions was brilliant and the climaxes were by turn grandiose and suffused with anxiety.

This was a captivating performance: two hours of compelling narrative in which magnificent musical peaks communicated the sheer psychological force of Boris Godunov’s inner conflicts. Witnessing his death, we truly understood his tragedy.

Claire Seymour

Musorgsky: Boris Godunov

Boris Godunov - Bryn Terfel, Prince Shuisky - John Graham-Hall, Andrey Shchelkalov - Kostas Smoriginas, Grigory (Pretender Dmitri) - David Butt Philip, Pimen - Ain Anger, Varlaam - Andrii Goniukov, Missail - Harry Nicoll, Yurodivy (Simpleton) - Andrew Tortise, Xenia - Vlada Borovko, Xenia’s Nurse - Clarissa Meek, Hostess of the Inn - Rebecca de Pont Davies, Mityukha - Adrian Clarke, Border Guard - James Platt, Nikitich - Jeremy White, Fyodor - Ben Knight, Boyar - Nicholas Sales; conductor - Antonio Pappano, Royal Opera Chorus (chorus-master - Renato Balsadonna), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Saturday 16th July 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):