The bridge across Floral Street between the opera house and the support building, its tortured architecture a metaphor for the role of Boris Godunov in Modest Musorgsky's operatic workout on Russian history.
Boris stands as probably the greatest operatic product of the Russian school - Kobbé (10th edition)
It’s a harsh world that Mussorgsky’s historical opera tells of, about the Time of Troubles between Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) and election of Michael I in 1613, the first of the Romanov Tsars. I wouldn’t have attempted to sit through Boris Godunov in the days before surtitles - there’s almost no word of Russian I can understand except niet. Mussorgsky’s sound world is his own, it has a richness of characterisation and many moments of beauty but it isn’t enough to follow the political history, let alone the subtleties and side comment which this production brings out in its staging. Mussorgsky’s innovative musical grammar is no longer the challenge it seems to have been to its first audiences; his music seems rich and distinctive, his own informed response to musical innovations elsewhere.
It’s a dark set, oppressive with icons geometrically disposed around the walls. The peasantry are dressed in overwhelming grey, the boyars are dressed in medieval colours limited by the dyes available. The visual look is bleak. There’s a balcony stage which variously presents the private side of the Tsar’s life or his conscience or the preparations for the next action. It’s a large company: there are a lot of people standing around on stage as human scenery.
There have been numerous different versions of Boris Godunov performed as attempts to make the work more audience-friendly, both simplification of the music and clarification of the drama. This production aims for Mussorgsky’s first version of 1869. The mood is lightened with the Inn scene and with a virtuosic cameo by Sam Furness as the Fool in the tin hat, who upstages everyone. The major principals do amazing work throughout the opera and have their great soliloquies, in this production the moments of great reflection flow naturally in the storytelling.
Warm reception from the audience, I was surrounded by people speaking Russian, several were following the surtitles in English: I wonder what they thought of the Russian accent of the mainly British cast.
My photo shows the bridge across Floral Street between the opera house and the support building, its tortured architecture a metaphor for the role of Boris Godunov in this operatic workout on Russian history.
Music - Modest Musorgsky
Libretto - Modest Musorgsky
Director - Richard Jones
Set designer - Miriam Buether
Costume designer - Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting designer - Mimi Jordan Sherin
Movement director - Ben Wright
Associate director - Gerard Jones
Revival movement director - Danielle Urbas
Conductor - Marc Albrecht
Boris Godunov - Bryn Terfel
Prince Shuisky - Roger Honeywell
Varlaam - John Tomlinson
Pimen - Matthew Rose
Grigory Otrepiev - David Butt Philip
Andrei Shchelkalov - Boris Pinkhasovich
Xenia - Haegee Lee
Xenia's Nurse - Fiona Kimm
Missail - Harry Nicoll
Hostess of the Inn - Anne Marie Gibbons
Holy Fool - Sam Furness
Nikitich - Jeremy White
Mityukha - Adrian Clarke
Frontier Guard - Alan Ewing
Boyar - Christopher Lemmings
Chorus Master - William Spaulding
Royal Opera Chorus, Concert master - Alexander Velinzon
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Co-production with Deutsche Oper Berlin