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Mussorgsky's Original 1869 Version of Boris Godunov
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This excellent DVD of a live 2004 performance of 'Boris Godunov' from the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona is the only one I know of that presents the original 1869 version; this is the version that Mussorgsky never saw because the Mariinsky Theatre powers-that-be urged him to include more female parts and so he wrote an addition scene, the so-called Polish scene, the one with Marina and Cardinal Rangoni that included a love scene for Marina and Grigory, 'the false Dimitri'. That scene is not included here, thus there is no Marina, no love duet and no choral polonaise in this production. This version is in seven scenes, and does include the St. Basil's Cathedral scene which is often dropped from the revised versions.
Willy Decker's staging (with costumes and sets by John MacFarlane) is minimalist in approach. It is vaguely updated to the early twentieth century (but obviously before the Revolution) and focuses much more on the psychology of the opera than its actual historical aspects. Much use is made of symbolic props -- a humongous throne/chair that actually becomes part of the set rather than a prop, and the Tsar's crown. In the short introduction we see the 'real' Tsarevich Dimitri murdered and physically he looks a good deal like the Simpleton whose presence in Scene VI is so important; thus are guilt and conscience conjoined. Further, Boris is made to look more like a passive participant in the Tsarevich's murder than an actual perpetrator; Shuisky is the real bad guy here. Boris's guilty conscience is all the more affecting as a result.
Matti Salminen, a towering dark-voiced basso, a fine actor whose usual Fach is Wagner and the like, is riveting as Boris. His 'I have attained the power' in Scene V, is the centerpiece of the action and extraordinarily moving. The other low-voiced characters are equally well-sung and -acted. Eric Halfvarson is a mesmerizing Pimen, Anatoly Kotcherga a dissolute and funny Varlaam, Albert Shagidullin a punctilious Shchelkalov. In an unusual bit of casting, countertenor Brian Asawa, a slightly built man, sings Boris's son Fyodor, and he has rather more interaction with Boris than is usual, much of it in mime. Marie Arnet is a limpid-voiced and physically beautiful Xenia, Boris's widowed daughter. The veteran Polish mezzo Stefania Toczyska is a characterful Nurse. Tenor Pär Lindskog is fine Grigory (the 'false Dimitri') in his short role in this version of the opera. Outstanding is Philip Langridge as the schemer, Prince Shuisky. He brings magnificent vocal and physical acting to the part. Alex Grigoriev, almost nude in his scene as the Simpleton, is a suitably effective wise fool. The interaction between him and Boris in Scene VI is electrifying.
The Liceu orchestra is one of the finest opera orchestras in Europe and this performance was conducted by their then-new music director, Sebastian Weigle. Sonically the voices are spotlit and the orchestra is sometimes unnecessarily recessed, but this is not a major problem. The performance does not have the oomph that Gergiev's does, I must say, but it is satisfying withal. I have given the DVD four stars largely because I suspect that although this is an important release most people would want either the Gergiev, with its original orchestration but the inclusion of the Polish scene, or the traditional Rimsky, in which case they would probably want one of the two DVD versions starring Yevgeny Nesterenko (I'd prefer the first one, the one with Irina Arkhipova as Marina).
So, given the above minor reservations, I do recommend this version for those who want a look at the original 1869 version in a fine performance. In my opinion Salminen is the best portrayer of Boris on DVD.
Boris in Short
M. F TERRIS | Miami, FL USA | 09/15/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There are several reasons for purchasing this release of Boris Godunov: Matti Salminen is a superb Boris and Eric Halvarson an equally compelling Pimen. The production is effectively recorded in 16:9 format with fine quality Dolby sound (although the dts surround sound, advertised on the box was not found inside). Weigle is an impressive conductor of Mussorgsky, the composer's orchestration is used, and the price is now right.
However, if you are looking for a first (or even second) recording, there are better choices: The rest of the supporting cast is uniformly adequate but rarely more than that. Decker's stage interpretation is intriguing but hardly compelling. Want to savor Mussorgsky's full genius? Get the Phillips release with Kirov & Gergiev, and a superb cast. There you will find all the music here plus the Polish act, the Kromny scene, and the parrot song, brilliantly conducted, sung, and recorded with dts. Or, if you want the most compelling production, buy the Stroyeva film version with the Bolshoi at its best. (Beware, though: Stroyeva cut the opera mercilessly, the mono sound has many artifacts, and the orchestration is Rimsky-Korsakov's.)"
Matti Salminen! Matti Salminen!
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 09/05/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You may have guessed from my headline that I am a HUGE Matti Salminen fan. With his powerful voice, his imposing stage presence, his unique and expressive countenance, and with his emotional range and depth, he is one of the premiere basses of our time, and the role of the tortured Boris is perfect for him. In this performance, Salminen doesn't shirk in presenting a single facet of the character, he is royal, arrogant, but also paternal, and, most importantly, haunted by his bloody past. The voice is strong when it needs to be, yet passive and wavering during moments of weakness. Salminen's performance is the main, albeit not the only, reason to purchase this disc.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Boris Godunov has an epic sweep, consequently it features a huge cast of characters, so I won't bother going into every single performance. Here are a few of the highlights. Eric Halfvarson, another bass who, in fact, sings many of the same roles as Salminen(he even looks a little like him) is Pimen, as haunted as Boris by the murder of the young Tsar-in-waiting several years ago, an event he witnessed. Halfvarson makes the aging monk humble and worldly, as he should be, and his dark voice adds dimension to the character. Par Lindskog and Philip Langridge are the two major tenor roles, presenting a contrast, a young ardent voice versus a mature, more craggy tenor that is still exceptional, both are in fine voice here. Boris' children are sung by a soprano and a countertenor, and both sing beautifully, with unrestrained lyricism. The acting by all involved matches the singing. The Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceau in Barcelona, under Sebastian Weigle, sounds grand, polished, it never upstages the voices. Musically speaking, this is a phenomenal performance.
Willy Decker's good-looking modernist production is stark and spare, it has some interesting moments, but it is also, quite frequently, repetitive and even prosaic. For instance, power is represented by the recurring image of a giant golden throne, toppled at first, then raised to a more erect stature. This is a pretty obvious image, and it gets downright silly when characters start climbing up this mammoth prop like Jack in the beanstalk. The memory of the murdered child takes the form of a sizable photograph of a closeup of his face, carried around by various characters, multiplying into the thousands as Boris' dementia grows more severe, more paranoid, until I finally had to say, "Enough is enough, we get the point already!" Having Prince Vassily carrying around a crown throughout the proceedings becomes tiresome as well, I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean, his hunger for the throne, or does it imply that Boris is a mere figurehead while he is the real source of power? Finally, having characters in an historical setting running around in contemporary business suits is a lazy, overdone practice these days, it stopped being clever a long time ago, I'm beginning to think that these opera houses are just too cheap to buy period costumes(the day they do an Aida in business suits is the day I throw up my hands and surrender!). Overall, the production, because it is so dark and minimalistic, rarely distracts from the performances, but it could have been much, much more potent, creative and thought-provoking. Still, it is serviceable, which inspires me to upgrade my rating to four-and-a-half stars, since everything else about this disc is so good.
For the record, this is Mussorgsky's original version of the opera. It has been a long time since I saw the revised version, but based on what I remember, I think I like this version better. Apparently, this edition was considered, musically, to be too rough-around-the-edges at the time it was composed, but this doesn't bother me, genius is seldom perfect, and neither the emotion nor the drama are shortchanged one iota. Besides, I seem to recall the alternate Boris being somewhat draggy at times, whereas this one is one of the fastest-moving operas I have ever seen, at two-and-a-half hours it is over before you know it.
Fantastic musically and scenically
Osvaldo Colarusso | Curitiba, Paraná Brazil | 02/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mussorgsky wrote two times Boris. The first version wasn't used all the time in this DVD: the second act was completely rewritten ,and this recording use the second version of the second act without the parrot song. There are differences in the beginning of the second scene of the first act that weren't used here too. We have here the "second" Boris without the Polish Act and without the revolution scene . The only way to hear the first Boris is the recording of Gergiev. Despite the edition problems this is one magnificent DVD . The singers are all very good, and the staging is very intelligent , and if we have the men with modern clothes we must remember that Russia, after the czars ,lived with other criminal as Stalin, Brejenev , and........Puttin . It is interesting : after centuries, with Czars and Emperors, Russia and China continue to have despotic governors .The mise-en-scene show that. What is particularly genial is the resemblance of the murdered child and the simpleton. If Schuisky is the bad boy in the present version we can't forget that after the false Dimitri he was the Czar . Salminen is really fantastic, as singer and actor . And we have Kotcherga and Langridge that are fantastic too. The conductor is very good and the Chorus and the Orchestra are perfect. After the magnificent DVD of Boris in St Petersburg, conducted by Gergiev , we have now one other first rate DVD. The first is obligatory. This other is a very good complement. Now , with this DVD we are finally visually free from the wretched revision of Korsakow of the most important Russian opera. For the second time we have opportunity to listen in DVD the original orchestration and the original harmony of Mussorgsky.
New light into Boris
Giedrius Alkauskas | Nottingham, UK | 01/15/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"To add to previous commentators, I really think that the highlight performer of this DVD recording is Shuisky. He really avoids overdramatizing, and sings wonderfully. Most importantly, note that this is NOT the original 1869 version: it is truncated 1874 version according to the synopsis of 1869. In the latter, Boris monologue is completelly different (it is surprising though that Mussorgsky has rewritten this; both versions are very profound); music of the act two was considerably altered in 1874 version; the same is true for several other places, including the begining of scene on lithuanian border. Please listen to Gergiev's recording to comapre."