Met Opera screens Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ ‘Live in HD’

Angel Blue as Destiny, Walter Russell III as Char’es-Baby, Latonia Moore as Billie, and Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera continues its season of Live in HD cinema productions with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, an adaptation of the memoir by Charles M Blow and the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The Washington Post describes the production as “A defiant, tender, and vital work of art … A starting point for something new, a refresh of where opera can take us”.

The name of jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has become synonymous with what are described on his website as “artistic works of conscience’’. The Oscar nominee, six-time Grammy winner and 2018 USA Fellow is as well known for his music which makes powerful statements on tragic events in American history as for his significant contribution to the world of jazz. He has composed over 50 soundtracks for film and television, debuted his first opera – Champion: An Opera in Jazz – in 2013, and recorded more than 30 albums. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is described by Associated Press as “…. a triumph for Terence Blanchard … Beautifully composed with nuances of shade and color …”. It has a score which contains elements of both classical music and jazz, requiring singers to have the power of classical training, but also ease with jazz and gospel singing.

Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Fire Shut Up in My Bones is based on the life of Charles M Blow, well known as an American journalist, commentator, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and current anchor for the Black News Channel. The critically acclaimed memoir, described by People Magazine as “searing and unforgettable”, was a New York Times bestseller, won a Lambda Literary Award, the Sperber Prize and made the lists of many best-sellers published in 2014. The opera relates the story of a young man’s journey to overcome a childhood of trauma and hardship, telling of his life in and around the small and impoverished town of Gibsland in northwestern Louisiana, and moving to his alma mater, Grambling State University, across a timescale ranging from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Walter Russell III as Char’es-Baby and Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

This Metropolitan Opera production is co-directed by James Robinson, Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, who has created productions for major opera companies in the USA and abroad, and Camille A Brown, the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production. The libretto is by award-winning director, writer, actress and professor Kasi Lemmons, marking her first foray into opera.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones stars baritone Will Liverman as Charles, who – according to the Observer – “…. took his lyric voice to the very limits of its capabilities in Charles’s violently emotional arias. And in more reflective moments, he revealed a piano sound so delicious you couldn’t help falling in love with him purely on the basis of timbre.”

A scene from Act I of Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Soprano Angel Blue sings Destiny/Loneliness/Greta with what the New York Times describes as “.… her luminous soprano voice and unforced charisma”. A rising star, she opened the Met’s 2019/20 season as Bess in a new production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, following her acclaimed French opera debut – and role debut – as Floria Tosca at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July of that year.

The role of Billie is sung by soprano Latonia Moore, described as “richly talented” by the New York Times, which also praised her performance of Serena in the Met’s 2019/20 season production of Porgy and Bess, writing that she “stopped the show…from almost vibrato-less, celestial high stretches to chilling, chesty low phrases, all of which she sang grippingly”.

Treble Walter Russell III takes the role of Char’es-Baby. Making his Met debut at the age of 13, he “… got the biggest individual cheers” writes Associated Press.

A scene from Act I of Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whom Associated Press says “…. brought out a vibrant performance ….”, and the broadcast is hosted by Emmy, Grammy and six-time Tony award winner, Audra McDonald.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones – described by the New York Times as “inspiring,” “subtly powerful” and “a bold affecting adaptation of Charles Blow’s work” – is a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, L A Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Originally commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, co-commissioned by Jazz St Louis, it premiered there in June 2019.

The opera will be transmitted to cinemas around the world on Saturday, October 23rd at 12:55pm ET. Search for your nearest cinema in the USA via this link and the rest of the world via this link.

Content Advisory: Fire Shut Up in My Bones addresses adult themes and contains some adult language.
Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes 
Charles M Blow  

Artists’ websites

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ABT’s New York Fall Season opens with ‘Giselle’

Skylar Brandt and Herman Cornejo in ‘Giselle’  Photo:  João Menegussi

American Ballet Theatre opens its first New York Fall Season for two years with the gorgeous Romantic-era ballet Giselle. With choreography after Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli and Marius Petipa, Giselle – set to Adolphe Adam’s sumptuous score – is one of the oldest classical ballets continually performed by ballet companies around the world.

Regarded as the most famous of the Romantic era ballets, Giselle was the result of the collaboration of the three French artists – Ballet Masters Perrot and Coralli, and composer Adam. In 1841 the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique was keen to feature a new Italian dancer, Carlotta Grisi, in a ballet, so Adam – who had previously composed for the company – and librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, were commissioned to create a vehicle for Grisi’s talent.

It was Gautier who initially started working on the story, drawing inspiration from two sources – the poem Fantômes from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, which told of a Spanish girl who died after a night of frenzied dancing, and a passage in prose entitled L’Allemagne by German poet, writer and literary critic Heinrich Heine, about a Slavic tale of supernatural maidens called Wilis, young brides-to-be who die before their wedding day. Perrot and Coralli were brought in to choreograph the work, and Giselle premiered at the Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique in Paris on 28th June, 1841, with Carlotta Grisi in the title role, French dancer Lucien Petipa (brother of Marius Petipa) as Albrecht and Adele Dumilatre as Myrtha.

In 1842, this version of Giselle was staged in St Petersburg, and this is where Marius Petipa became involved in the choreography. As Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg from 1871, he staged four revivals of Giselle between 1884 and 1903, and it’s this final version on which most interpretations have since been based.

The ballet tells of a frail young peasant girl who is betrayed by her beloved, the aristocratic Count Albrecht, as a result of which she dies of a broken heart. Giselle finds herself in a moonlit glade surrounded by the supernatural Wilis and their queen, Myrtha. Albrecht enters the glade to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave, and is summoned by Myrtha and her Wilis to dance to his death. Giselle – ever forgiving, and touched by his exhaustion – pleads for mercy on his behalf, and Myrtha ultimately frees him from the vengeance of the Wilis.

American Ballet Theatre’s production of Giselle is staged by Kevin McKenzie with John Lanchberry’s orchestration of Adolphe Adam’s score. Scenery is by Gianni Quaranta, costumes by Anna Anni and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Performances take place at the David H Koch Theatre, New York, New York from October 20th to 31st. For further information on the 2021 Fall Season, visit the American Ballet Theatre website and tickets are available on this link.

Information sourced from:
American Ballet Theatre program notes
The Petipa Society
Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Smith Center

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San Francisco Opera opens new production of Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’

Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera opens a new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio this week.

Directed by Matthew Ozawa, whose “strikingly spare productions” (New York Times) are, says Opera News “a vivid demonstration of what opera is all about”. This new production brings forward Fidelio’s setting from an eighteenth-century prison to a modern government detainment center, with set and projection design by Alexander V Nichols.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This production of Fidelio features South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Leonore. Ms van den Heever, who made her debut with San Francisco Opera while still an Adler Fellow, is described by Associated Press as being “Blessed with a plush, dramatic voice capable of formidable power and dazzling high notes …”. The Telegraph writes of her as “…. a superb South African soprano who looks and sounds remarkably like the young Joan Sutherland ..”, and Forum Opéra says that she “…. moves us deeply, enthrals and captivates… she delighted us with her powerful and controlled voice, with a splendid midrange that does not exclude dazzling high notes”.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Beethoven’s Fidelio – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The role of Florestan is sung by Russell Thomas -“A tenor of gorgeously burnished power…” writes the New York Times. Mr Thomas was last seen in San Francisco in 2018 in the title role in Roberto Devereux, following which Seen and Heard wrote: “With a pure, focused tenor sound, remarkably even from top to bottom, Thomas managed to convey both the nobility and anguish of the title character…he created a time-stopping moment as he awaited his execution in Act III.”.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley takes the role of Don Pizarro. Regarded as one of the most prominent Wagnerian singers of our day, Mr Grimsley last appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2018 as Wotan/The Wanderer in the Ring cycle. Following that performance, The Mercury News wrote: “As Wotan, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley was a swaggering captain of industry; singing with forceful dark power, he was in suave, commanding voice.”.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore, Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, James Creswell as Rocco and Christopher Oglesby as Jaquino in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and cast are led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim. Chorus Director Ian Robertson has prepared the ensemble for this performance – two of the most memorable choruses being the Act I Prisoner’s Chorus and the opera’s finale, both of which are said to be comparable to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the 9th Symphony.

James Creswell as Rocco, Elza van den Heever as Leonore, and Greer Grimsley as Don Pizarro in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The plot of Fidelio revolves around the unjust jailing of Spanish aristocrat, Florestan, by a political enemy, Don Pizarro, the cruel governor of the State prison who would face a corruption scandal if the identity of his secret prisoner were to be revealed. It tells how Florestan’s wife Leonore devises a plan to rescue him from the death penalty. Taking the name Fidelio, she disguises herself as a man, and goes to work as a deputy gaoler at the prison where Florestan is being held. Don Pizarro – concerned about a proposed inspection of the jail by the king’s minister, Don Fernando – orders the head jailer, Rocco, to kill Florestan, which Rocco refuses to do. When Pizarro goes down to Florestan’s cell to do the deed himself, Leonore reveals her true identity, threatens the tyrant, and Florestan’s life is saved by the arrival of Don Fernando.

Soloman Howard as Don Fernando, James Creswell as Rocco, Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, Elza van den Heever as Leonore, Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Beethoven was commissioned in 1804, by the Theater an der Wien, to write his only opera, the story of which was based on a true incident of a woman disguised as a man who liberated her husband from a Jacobin prison. A judge named Jean-Nicolas Bouilly witnessed this event, and developed it into a story, entitled Leonoré, which was transferred to Spain. The theatre director and writer Joseph Sonnenleithner, translated the French libretto into German and Beethoven set about writing the score for the opera Leonore. The premiere in Vienna on November 20th, 1805, was disrupted by the arrival in the city of Napoleon’s troops, and was an abject failure. The libretto was then subject to a number of edits by Stephan von Breuning, and after the failure of this second version in 1806, Beethoven consigned the project to a drawer for eight years. The final version was fundamentally revised, and with a libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Fidelio premiered at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna on May 23rd, 1814.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore and Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Beethoven wrote four different overtures for the opera first known as Leonore. The first – with which he wasn’t satisfied – was never played during his lifetime and was followed by a new overture for each of the three staged versions. The last overture written, in E major, is the one that has prevailed.

Also in this San Francisco Opera production of Fidelio are James Creswell as Rocco, Soloman Howard as Don Fernando, Ann-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, Christopher Oglesby as Jaquino, Zhengyi Bai as the First Prisoner and Stefan Egerstrom as the Second Prisoner.

Costumes are by Jessica Jahn and lighting by JAX Messenger and Justin A Partier

Sung in German with English supertitles, San Francisco Opera’s production of Fidelio runs at the War Memorial Opera House between October 14th and 30th. Further information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Opera website.

This production will also be available as a livestream on October 14th, 17th and 20th. Tickets for livestream performances are available on this link. The livestream can be viewed on desktop, mobile or tablet devices, and starts promptly at curtain time. It cannot be rewound or watched on-demand. Upon purchase, you will receive a link that will direct you to the livestream.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Inside

Opera Online

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Ballet Nice Méditerranée pays tribute to the influence of black artists

Ballet Nice Méditerranée, under the artistic direction of Éric Vu-An, presents five works in a programme entitled Black Dances Matter – paying tribute to the influence of black artists in the history of dance. The company has a well-deserved reputation for versatility, and this is amply displayed across Vu-An’s Eden and Le Ballet de Faust, Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, Dwight Rhoden’s Verse Us and Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature.

In Eden, Éric Vu-An – who is of Franco, African and Vietnamese descendancy – depicts a harmonious time when Humanity gave birth to all, regardless of race or colour, but – as the music from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice foretells – this Utopian state doesn’t last, as tolerance, universality and love descend into conflict.

The second work comprises solos from Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, a ballet in which Béjart reconnects with his African heritage (he had a Senegalese grandmother). Chaka is based on a text by Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as the first president of Senegal for 20 years. Set to Brazilian and Ivory Coast music, the ballet has Chaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, as its central character, demonstrating what Senghor saw as the influence of Africa on modern culture.

Éric Vu-An created his Le Ballet de Faust in 2018, setting it to the music of Charles Gounod. This work is his interpretation of Walpurgis Night – the scene in Gounod’s opera Faust when Mephistopheles shows Faust the folk celebration before May Day, the night on which the souls of the dead are briefly released to wander as they choose. Building on a sense of joyful reverie, the ballet paints a vivid, colourful picture of the dancers reaching a stage of total distraction, in which dance and trance are never far apart.

Dwight Rhoden, a former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company, is the co-founder, and one of the two artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York – widely regarded as America’s original multicultural dance company. His Verse Us is a dramatic piece with jazzy undertones, and an impressive display of movements in a bold, almost athletic style. Even the score is unusual – bringing together the music of Philip Glass, contemporary German composers Nils Frahm and Sven Helbig, and Estonian-born American conductor, curator and producer Kristjan Järvi. In a nod to tradition, the score also features music by Mozart and Claude Debussy.

The final ballet on the programme is Night Creature, created by the prolific American choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a multi-racial modern dance company which had a significant effect on the popularity of contemporary dance, not only in America, but around the world as well. His Night Creature, dating back to 1974, is set to Duke Ellington’s Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra. A spirited work, it features the antics of a group of bright young things in the Jazz Age, who come into their own after nightfall – as they strut, slink, leap and soft-shoe shuffle their way, 1920s style, through Ailey’s sassy choreography and Ellington’s fabulous score.

Black Dances Matter will be stage at the Nice Opera from 15th to 21st October. Reservations can be made by telephone on 04 92 17 40 79, or online at

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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English National Opera goes for diversity in 2021-22 season

English National Opera has something to suit all tastes for the 2021-22 season – ranging from the seriousness of actuality to the frivolous and lighthearted, with a healthy dash of passion and tragedy thrown into the mix.

Satyagraha © Eric Standley

Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s account of Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, opens the season. Set to a text from the ancient Sanskrit scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, it looks at Gandhi’s concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change, relating the experiences which were instrumental in his development as a great leader. Staged by Phelim McDermott, Satyagraha stars Sean Panikkar as Gandhi, Musa Ngqungwana as Lord Krishna and William Thomas as Parsi Rustomji. With conductor Carolyn Kuan – making her ENO debut – Satyagraha runs between 14th and 28th October.

HMS Pinafore © Simon Webb

Award-winning Cal McCrystal stages Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera HMS Pinafore (29 October – 11 December) for the first time in the Company’s history. It tells the hilarious story of a group of preposterous characters aboard a naval ship, and – with its tale of forbidden love – takes a swipe at the British class system. Will the captain’s daughter marry the lowly sailor or the First Lord of the Admiralty as expected? Les Dennis is Sir Joseph, John Savournin is Captain Corcoran, and the roles of Ralph and Josephine are played by Elgan Llŷr Thomas and Alexandra Oomens. The conductor is Chris Hopkins, and HMS Pinafore runs between 29 October and 11 December.

The Valkyrie © Rekha Garton

Norse mythology, scheming Gods and the conflict between Wotan, leader of the gods, and his warrior daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, form the backdrop to Richard Wagner’s The Valkyrie – the second part of his Ring cycle. Richard Jones directs this dramatic production in which Wotan’s son Siegmund, together with Sieglinde, is fleeing for his life from her husband Hunding, with a showdown looming between the two men. The cast includes Matthew Rose as Wotan, Rachell Nicholls as Brünnhilde, Nicky Spence as Siegmund, Emma Bell as Sieglinde, Brindley Sherratt as Hunding, and Susan Bickley as Fricka. The ENO Orchestra is conducted by Music Director Martyn Brabbins in a production which runs from 19th November to 10th December. Over the next five years, the other three parts of Wagner’s Ring cycle – Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung will be staged at London’s Coliseum.

La bohème © Louisa Parry

La bohème, Puccini’s passionate and heartbreaking portrayal of love, friendship and loss in the bohemian quarter of Paris, brings to the stage of the Coliseum some of the most beautiful music ever written for opera. This Jonathan Miller production – which returns to ENO – was inspired by the photographs of Paris and Parisians taken during the 1930s by Hungarian-born French photographer Brassaï. The role of Mimi is shared between Sinéad Campell-Wallace and Nadine Benjamin, and that of Rodolfo by David Junghoon Kim. Louise Alder is Musetta, Charles Rice is Marcello, William Thomas is Colline, and the role of Schaunard is shared by Benson Wilson and Alex Otterburn. Ben Glassberg conducts the performances which run between 31 Jan and 27 Feb 2022.

The Cunning Little Vixen © Tim Booth

Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen explores the relationship between man and nature, as Sharp Ears, the clever Vixen of the title, is captured by a Forester. She ultimately manages to escape, but he is forever haunted by her memory. Progressing through the different worlds of both Vixen and Forester, the opera shows how just one chance meeting between two beings can change the lives of both. This new production is directed by Jonathan Manton, and ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins leads the orchestra, chorus and soloists who include Sally Matthews as the Vixen and Lester Lynch as the Forester. The Cunning Little Vixen runs between 18 February and 1 March 2022.

Così fan tutte © Jonathan Kitchen

Director Phelim McDermott brings Mozart’s Così fan tutte forward to the brash and gaudy Coney Island in the 1950s, where sisters Fiordiligi (Nardus Williams) and Dorabella (Hanna Hipp) are holidaying with their fiancés, Ferrando (Amitai Pati) and Guglielmo (Benson Wilson. Don Alfonso (Neal Davies), however, decides to gamble with the lovers’ feelings, causing much confusion and delivering some surprising results. Some of Mozart’s best-loved music is conducted by Kerem Hasan in a production which runs between 10 and 22 March 2022.

The Handmaid’s Tale © Nicky Hamilton

Poul RudersThe Handmaid’s Tale is based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Attwood. This production, directed by ENO’s Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon, tells of a Handmaid named Offred, one of the women forced to reproduce with Commanders of the Republic of Gilead. This sobering production focuses on the daily terrors experienced by Offred, as she endures the lack of rights and freedom which is the fate of all of the women of the Republic. The score by Danish composer Ruders – influenced by minimalism, medieval chanting and gospel music – is conducted by contemporary music specialist Joana Carneiro. Kate Lindsey takes the role of Offred, Susan Bickley is her mother, Emma Bell is Aunt Lydia, and John Findon is Luke.  The production runs between 4 and 14 April 2022.

Visit the ENO website for more information and for tickets.

Information sourced from ENO programme notes

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Met Opera opens new ‘Live in HD’ season with ‘Boris Godunov’

René Pape in the title role of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Modest Mussorgsky’s magnificent historical opera, Boris Godunov, currently running at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, opens the Company’s Live in HD 2021-22 season. This production by Stephen Wadsworth, stars German bass René Pape in the title role, David Butt Philip as the pretender Grigory, and Maxim Paster as the powerful boyar Shuisky. German conductor Sebastian Weigle leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and the transmission is hosted by soprano Angel Blue.

Set in Russia between 1598 and 1605, the opera is Mussorgsky’s depiction of the troubled life of the rise and fall of the 16th century Tsar, Boris Godunov. He became Regent after the deaths of Ivan the Terrible and his son Fyodor – at a time when Ivan’s surviving son Dmitry, the Tsarevitch, was still a child. Dmitry, however, died in mysterious circumstances, following which Boris, at the behest of a group of politicians, reluctantly agreed to become Tsar, hoping that no one would discover the secret that troubled him – his role in the assassination of the rightful heir to the throne.

Ain Anger as Pimen and David Butt Philip as Grigory in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Boris was considered to be a good ruler, until the young monk Grigory, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the deceased Tsarevitch, decided to impersonate Dmitry and seize the throne. With pressure mounting on him from all sides, Boris began to lose his sanity, until ultimately, naming his son Feyodor the heir to his throne, Boris bade a loving farewell to his children and died.

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was not only the composer of Boris Godunov, but he also wrote the libretto which was based on Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin’s play, written in 1825 and published in 1831. Puskhin took his inspiration from the Shakespeare play, Boris Godunov, but he was also heavily influenced by Nikolay Karamzin’s History of the Russian State. The opera was completed in 1869, but it was rejected by the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, so in 1872 Mussorgsky revised his opera, and it premiered in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre.

A scene from Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Some years later, the Russian pianist and musicologist, Pavel Lamm, who was director of the State Music Publication Department in Moscow between 1918 and 1923, established a storehouse for scores which had been confiscated from nationalised music publishers in Russia. One of these scores was the original which Mussorgsky had written for Boris Godunov, and which is much closer to Pushkin’s text than the revised one. This 1869 version of Boris Godunov was premiered at the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, in what was then Leningrad, on 16th February, 1928, and it’s this one-act version which is staged by the Metropolitan Opera.

Aleksey Bogdanov as Shchelkalov in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

René Pape, whose “dark, penetrating voice is ideal for the role” according to the New York Times, has been a member of the Berlin State Opera since 1988, where he has performed most of the great roles of his career. He made his debut with the Met in 1995, since when has appeared in 18 roles and more than 160 performances, including four major debuts – Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, Escamillo in Carmen, and the Old Hebrew in Samson et Dalila. Winner of two Grammy Awards, named Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year in 2002, Artist of the Year by the German opera critics in 2006, and winner of an ECHO award in 2009, René Pape is described by Opera News as “an artist who thrills his audiences with charisma, intelligence, and a one-in-a-million voice”.

The role of the Pretender Grigory is taken by British tenor David Butt Philip of whom the Guardian, following an appearance at The Royal Opera House, wrote: “He sings with uncompromising conviction and blazing intensity. He’s a superb actor, too … It’s an exceptional, career-making achievement.”

Maxim Paster as Shuisky, Megan Marino as Feodor, and René Pape in the title role of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Making his Met Opera debut is Russian tenor Maxim Paster as Shuisky who brings Boris news of the Pretender to the throne. Mr Paster has recently sung this role at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper and Opèra national de Paris Bastille, and whom – according to Bachtrack – “….has flair and panache, and fills the scene with his presence both physically and vocally”.

Other members of the cast include Russian baritone Aleksey Bogdanov as the boyar Shchelkalov, who, according to Opera News, has “…a dark, rich baritone with plenty of luster … star quality in every way”. Estonian bass Ain Anger, described by the Guardian as “One of the great Wagner basses of our time”, is the monk Pimen who relates to Grigory the accounts of the death of the Tsarevich Dmitry, and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green – who has rapidly gained an international reputation as a ‘breakthrough star’ – is the vagrant monk, Varlaam.

Aleksey Bogdanov as Shchelkalov, René Pape as Boris, and Maxim Paster as Shuisky in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Conductor Sebastian Weigle who leads Mussorgsky’s towering masterwork, has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s finest opera houses, including The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Berlin State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera and Zürich Opera, as well as at the Bayreuth Festival. He has held the roles of Principal Conductor for Berlin State Opera, Music Director of the Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and since 2008 has been General Music Director of Frankfurt Opera.

Stephen Wadsworth is director of the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program at the Juilliard School, and also head of dramatic studies in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. As well as at the Met, he has directed operas at La Scala, Milan, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Netherlands Opera, Edinburgh Festival and at San Francisco Opera, and plays on and off Broadway, and in London’s West End. Among works which he has written is the libretto for Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place.

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Boris Godunov Live in HD (sung in Russian with English titles) will be screened on October 9th in cinemas in the US and in and around the London area in the UK, at 12.55 pm ET. To find your nearest cinema, please follow this link.

Live performances of Boris Godunov at the Met will take place on October 9th at 1.00 pm, October 14th at 7.00 pm, and October 17th at 3.00 pm – all ET. Further details of this production, and others in the Metropolitan 2021-22 season, can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website.

Information sourced from:
Metropolitan Opera program notes
The Royal Opera House programme notes
Oxford Music Online
Pavel Lamm
Artists’ websites

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