This program is a live recording of Alfred Kirchner's production of Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina" from the Vienna State Opera. Conducted by Claudio Abbado and featuring top vocalists from Russia and the Eastern Bloc in all ... more »the leading roles, this production was hailed as a triumph. Arguably Mussorgsky's greatest work, "Khovanshchina" is an opera of immense power and humanity set in the time when Peter the Great assumed power in Russia.« less
"Tolstoy once said: "I like neither talented drunks nor drunken talents" thereby wittily dismissing Mussorgsky. Mussorgsky however cannot be pushed aside so easily ( even if Tolstoy was right; it took no less than three composers to finish the work,
left in a sorry unfinished state.)
Abbado, who is undisputably today's greatest interpreter of
Mussorgsky, chose, very wisely, the Shostakovich orchestration
who created a dark hued, sombre score that he handles masterfully.
In fact we go from the aethereal strings (The Prelude) to the
dark bases representing the brutal strenghth of the Khovanskys
and the ensuing conflicts. Distant trumpets create magical effects. This DVD sound is superb( and if I may say so, you are far better off with this than the exorbiantly priced CD set)
And to see it! The design is incredible. Sets are surrealistic
in a way, full of disturbing images suiting the mood of the moment. Screens sometimes close creating claustrophobic effects,
sometimes opening to infinite vistas. Sometimes we see ruined cities or pyramid of skulls, the latters seems like a constant theme reminding us of the concluding tragedy.
The principals... Nicolai Ghiarov, the world famous basso, acts
and sings with tremendous power, a multifaceted tragic character.
Paata Burchuladze, another marvelous basso, shines as Dosifey the
high priest. We must also mention Anatoly Kocherga in the role of Shaklovity the evil Boyar, thoroughly
frightening, but believable - his great aria in third act is
one to watch for. Ludmila Semtchuk as Marfa is beautifully acted
and sung, she is a real feast for the eye as well as the ear.
Last but not least, Heinz Zednik, the scribbler, ( of Bayreuth's Mime fame) here
he sings in Russian as if the role was created for him.
Note of caution: The music is difficult and requires repeated listenings. Watch it one act at a time as the opera is very long.
But I assure you, you will love this work as I came to love it, being a sceptic at first.
Do I need to sum up? Great musical and theatrical experience.
Opera at its best. Can't recommend it enough."
Overwhelming theatrical and musical experience!
Izolda | North Haven, CT United States | 04/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I do not really know which production of "Khovanshchina" I am reviewing here - as you can see, no data about the performers is available, but it is not a problem as long as I know which one I want to review and recommend. There are three videos of "Khovanshchina" that I know of, but only one that I saw and can comment on: the Vienna State Opera production from 1989 directed by Alfred Kirschner and conducted by Claudio Abbado. For anybody interested in Mussorgsky's operas this video is a must, not only for its visual merits but also for its "soundtrack". Indeed, the live recording of this production is available from "Deutsche Grammophon" but NOT in the USA (with the exception of some CD stores, where you can get it as a special import for a special high price), so for many this video tape may be the only source of Abbado's electrifying rendition of "Khovanshchina" (incidentally, Abbado uses Shostakovich's orchestration, instead of Rimsky-Korsakov's and for the final scene, Stravinsky's version prepared for Diaghilev). And it has many advantages over the CD set: one is, of course, the Vienna State Opera production itself, the other - the recorded sound. The CD's live recording catches a lot of (sometimes quite obtrusive) stage noises, which are not so bothering when you watch the action. The casts of the video production and the CD recording are slightly different (but both uniformly excellent), Marjana Lipovshek (CD) as Marfa instead of Ludmila Semchuk (VHS) and Aage Haugland (CD) as Ivan Khovansky instead of Nicholai Ghiaurov (VHS) being the most notable changes. What pleased me most was the presence of Anatoly Kotcherga in the role of Fyodor Shaklovity in both VHS and CD - his famous aria "Spit streleckoe gnezdo" (act III) is a marvellous tune (you will immediately know which aria it is even if you don't know it - it's one of these instances when, after having heard a piece of music, you wonder how long you could have lived without knowing it). It is one of the most moving patriotic "songs" which - regardless your feelings towards Russia - will melt your heart, especially when sung with such a dedication [Kotcherga and Abbado recorded this aria on a CD devoted to the demonic "Night on the Bare Mountain" and selections from "Khovanshchina" /Sony 7464 62034: "St John's Night on the Bare Mountain" - available at Amazon.com!/]. The Vienna State Opera production is as grim as the story it tells, but also as arresting. It won't lift your spirit but that's not what, I hope, you expect of Mussorgsky's operas. What you'll get instead is a high dose of real musical excitement created by a fantastically cooperating team of soloists, choristers, orchestra members lead by a single man, whose commitment is probably the main source of this production's magic - Claudio Abbado. You'll hear gorgeous choruses, including an extensive one sung and approprietely acted by the drunken Streltsy (act III). You'll hear horns and majestic bells! And you'll see murder - one attempted and one successful! It is a good place for a warning - do not start watching this tape without some basic notes on historical background of the opera's events (if you can't find any, I will be glad to send some xeroxes - I, myself, am not an expert on the Russian history) - the political plot is somewhat complicated and is not always clear from the libretto itself (even with English subtitles), but with a short history lesson you will be able to follow it without too much trouble. It is a fascinating period in the Russian history and is worth exploring not only for Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina"! If you like musical and theatrical explorations, this video is for you."
A Fine Performance of a Most Extraordinary Work
M. F TERRIS | Miami, FL USA | 06/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you love powerful music, political intrigue, epic historical drama, and rich characterization, do not miss Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. It is what Mussorgsky called a "nationalist people's musical drama," one fit for our age; it is only opera I know of that can give you insight into the tensions of our times: the turmoil of Afghanistan and Iraq. These are lands struggling with modernism, autocracy, religious fanaticism, feudal fiefdoms, and fears of the West. All this was true of Russia when Peter the Great was coming of age and when Prince Ivan Khovansky, in league and in rivalries with false westernizers (like Prince Golitizan) and the Old Believers, sought to create their putsch against the imperial power of the Romanovs.The music is wonderful, providing melodic depth to every nuance of this psychosocial epic. It is more subtle and mature "Boris Godunov," but no less moving. Yet Khovanshchina does have its problems: Peter the Great, the central figure of the drama, is absent. Russian law forbade Mussorgsky from depicting members of the Romanov family on stage (so, too, the palace intrigues between Peter and his sister, Sophia, could not be shown). So, dramatically it lacks the tightness of Boris. Neither could Mussorgsky depict Patriarch Nikon, whose reforms so inflamed that Old Believers that, by the end of the opera, they immolate themselves. Mussorgsky died with Khovanshchina barely sketched, so musicologists still debate his point of view (I think Kirchner and the Vienna State got it wrong, but no matter). The production is a fine one: well conducted by Claudio Abbado, beautifully sung, and often brilliantly acted (most especially by Ghiaurov as Ivan Khovansky and Zednik as the scribe). The dance of the Persian slaves is marvelously sensual, and the staging, while variable in quality is generally excellent - superb in Khovansky's rally and in the immolation scene. Technically, it is very well recorded, though in standard frame and just in stereo. Enjoy it now; don't just wait for a DTS version. At 173 minutes on 1 DVD you're certainly getting your money's worth."
A really great Opera.
Noah Lambert | Chicago, IL USA | 08/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Khovanshchina considered by many to be Mussorgsky's greatest work is grand opera in the greatest sense. There is ballet, huge choruses, and even a on-stage brass band (which sounded really good too). The Vienna Opera Orchestra/Vienna Philharmonic is one of the best orchestra's around. Claudio Abbado does a really good job balancing this score out, but still letting it go foreword with a lot of energy. Overall I would recommend trying to watch this DVD or even getting it. It is a really good production. The DVD has good sound and picture quality. The camera work is pretty good considering how large the stage is. The staging of the opera is not as conducive to the camera as it is actually being in the theater. This doesn't bother the visual element to much though."
Viewer | 08/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Abbado is a strong Mussorgsky-champion. He cares not for the Russian tradition, perhaps rightly so, because the tradition actually concerns Rimsky-Korsakov's version, while he uses Shostakovich's. Instead, he offers his own original ideas, treating the score as seriously as he would have treated a Wager or Mozart opera, with all the intellect and sophistication needed.
For comparison, listen to Opera D'oro's release of La Scala's Khovanshchina led by the Russian Leskovich.
Ghiaurov plays in both recordings the part of Ivan Khovansky. Here he is past his prime, but uses his vast experience to put on a credible performance.
Paata Burchuladze is Dosifey. He has a subtle bass voice. He takes the opportunity to reach the low D in his great monolog. Still, he's a bit young for being a convincing Dosifey. Maybe he should have taken Khovansky and let Ghiaurov be Dosifey...
Atlantov is strikingly great singing Andrey's ungratefully difficult tessitura.
Kotcherga is in top shape (Strong voice, very strong). You get the notion why Abbado let him sing Boris in his later recording of Boris Godunov.
Semtschuk succeeds most of the time to push her chest tones, except for some slips, but she is obviously more comfortable in the higher register.
The orchestra and choir are musically flourished, although their pronouncing of the Russian words is obscure.
P.S It is also nice to have Zednick as the Scribbler!"