New production of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ for Monte-Carlo Opera

Modest Mussorgsky’s magnificent historical opera, Boris Godunov, opens this week at the Salle Garnier in Monaco. Starring Russian bass, Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role, this is a new production, in co-operation with Grand Avignon Opera, and the first staging by Monte-Carlo Opera of the original 1869 version of the work.

Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was not only the composer of Boris Godunov, but he also wrote the libretto which was based on Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play, 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, due – apparently – to its lack of lyricism and significant female characters. In 1872 Musorgsky revised his opera, including more formal arias, some additional characters and a new act, and it was premiered in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg.

Fortunately, however, the Russian pianist and musicologist, Pavel Lamm, 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 that which Mussorgsky originally wrote for Boris Godunov, and due to Lamm’s detailed research and editorial skills, we have access to a version of the opera which is much closer to Pushkin’s text than the revised one. This original 1869 version of Boris Godunov was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 16th February, 1928, and it’s this version which Monte-Carlo Opera is to stage.

Mussorgsky’s operatic depiction of the troubled life of the rise and fall of the 16th century Tsar, Boris Godunov, takes the form of seven tableaux. After the death of the tsar known as Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov becomes Regent, as Ivan’s surviving son Dmitry, the Tsarevitch, is still a child. When Dmitry dies in mysterious circumstances, Boris, at the behest of a group of politicians, reluctantly agrees to become Tsar, hoping that no one will discover the secret that troubles him – his role in the assassination of the rightful heir to the throne. Boris is considered to be a good ruler, until the young monk Grigory, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the deceased Tsarevitch, decides to impersonate Dmitry and seize the throne. With pressure mounting on him from all sides, Boris begins to lose his sanity, and naming his son Feyodor the heir to his throne, Boris bids a loving farewell to the boy and dies.

In the title role is Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov whom The Independent describes as a “sensational bass…who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. Having made his debut at La Scala in 2001, he has become a frequent guest at some of the major opera houses in the world, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Also a concert artist, Mr Abdrazakov has performed at the BBC Proms in London, at Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as with leading international orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic.

The monk Pimen is sung by Russian bass Alexeï Tikhomirov. Praised by Bachtrack for his “powerful vocal volume” and “impressive interpretation”, Mr Tikhomirov has this season sung the role of Pimen at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the title role in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Inquisitor in Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel at Theater an der Wien, and Prince Bolkonsky in his War and Peace at Grand Theatre de Geneve, Future engagements include a debut performance at Frankfurt Opera, and return appearances at New National Theatre Tokyo and Grand Theatre de Geneve. 

The role of the young pretender Grigory is taken by Russian tenor Oleg Balachov, who has appeared as Loge with the Mariinsky Opera in London in Das Rheingold, and in Prokofiev’s War and Peace in Monte-Carlo. Godunov’s son Feyodor is sung by Marina Iarskaïa.

Konstantin Chudovsky – Chief Conductor of Ural Opera in Ekaterinburg – leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chorus of the Monte-Carlo Opera (director Stefano Visconti) and the Chorus of the Children of the Ranier III Academy of Music. Maestro Chudovsky has a wide ranging repertoire of the best known operas, and has appeared at National Opera of Chile, major French opera houses in centres such as Lyon, Reims and Limoges, Theater an der Wien, Bulgarian National Opera and Helikon Opera, Moscow.

Stage design is by Jean-Romain Vesperini, decor by Bruno de Lavenère, costumes by Alain Blanchot, lighting by Bertrand Couderc and video design by Etienne Guiol.

Monte-Carlo Opera’s production of Boris Godunov takes place at the Salle Garnier, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, on 22nd, 27th and 29th April and 2nd May. Further information and reservation details can be found on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:
Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes
The Royal Opera House programme notes
Oxford Music Online
Artists’ websites

All images of decor models © Bruno de Lavanère

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.

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