Running Time: 181 minutes
Region Code: ALL
Picture Format: 4:3
Sound: Dolby 2.0
Universally acknowledged as the greatest of all Russian operas, this is a faithful and often dazzling production of the standard Rimsky-Korsakov version taped "live" at the Bolshoi in 1978. As Boris, the renowned Yevgeni Nesterenko is as justifiably identified with the role inhis generation as Chaliapin, London, and Kipness were in theirs. Nesterenko gives a remarkably vivid, human portrait of the tormented half-crazed Tsar, and is supported by a first rate ensemble in a richly designed and costumed production.
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MUSSORGSKY Boris Godunov • Boris Khaikin, cond; Yevgeny Nesterenko (Boris Godunov); Vladislav Piavko (Grigori/Dmitri); Valery Yaroslavtsev (Pimen); Artur Eisen (Varlaam); Andrei Sokolov (Shuisky); Alexei Maslennikov (Simpleton); Irina Arkhipova (Marina); Glafira Koroleva (Feodor); Galinia Kalinina (Xenia); Nina Grigorieva (Nurse); Larissa Nikitina (Hostess); Bolshoi Op Ch and O • KULTUR D1138 (DVD: 181:00)
In Fanfare 35:3 I reviewed a Blu-ray release of a Boris Godunov conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. In that review, I endorsed as one of the two best versions of Boris available on DVD the one that I am now reviewing here. In that review, I noted that none of the releases of this performance on DVD have provided complete cast information. (It has been issued on at least one other label, with no cast list or subtitles. Avoid any other release except this one.) I provided a partial cast list based on information I obtained by scouring the Internet.
Lo and behold, a Fanfare reader in England, John T. Hughes, very kindly wrote me a letter providing the missing information (and a correction) from a Radio Times press clipping of the BBC television broadcast of the performance on November 5, 1977. Rather than make another piecemeal addition of this information in a Critics’ Corner entry that would not make its way into the online Fanfare Archive, I thought it best to write an actual review, so that the information will be readily available for future reference on the Internet. First, the complete cast:
Boris Godunov Yevgeny Nesterenko
Grigori/Dmitri Vladislav Piavko
Pimen Valery Yaroslavtsev
Marina Irina Arkhipova
Feodor Glafira Koroleva
Xenia Galina Kalinina
Nurse Nina Grigorieva
Hostess Larissa Nikitina
Shuisky Andrei Sokolov
Simpleton Alexei Maslennikov
Missail Vitaly Vlasov
Varlaam Artur Eisen
Rangoni Alexei Rumyantsev
Shchelkalov Vladimir Malchenko
Mitiukh Mikhail Shkaptsov
Nikitch Vladimir Filippov
Krushchov Konstantin Baskov
Boyar Konstantin Baskov
Second, the performance itself; this is an instance in which the sum is greater than the individual parts. The version of the score is primarily that of the 1872 revision, as edited by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov; the St. Basil Cathedral scene from the 1869 version is included, but act III, scene 1 from 1872 is omitted. Production values are completely traditional, without a whiff of Regietheater. The staging is from the pre-glasnost and -perestroika Soviet Union—by which I mean that, lacking the means to employ the most up-to-date Western technology, the sets are very old-fashioned, being mostly painted curtain backdrops, though those are not without a certain nostalgic charm. Costumes are a treat, being extremely varied and colorful, though sometimes showing their age. (In the much inferior revival of this production from nine years later in 1987, also preserved on DVD, both sets and costumes look positively threadbare.) Acting consists of stock poses and gestures, though most of the singers manage not to be too wooden about them. The film quality is a bit unfocused even by standards of the time, and the recorded sound somewhat on the dry side, though both are adequate.
The singing is generally solid if seldom outstanding. Yevgeny Nesterenko was a leading Boris of his generation, and is caught here still in his prime. His voice does not have the fullness and resonance of a Nicolai Ghiaurov, but he is a convincing interpreter both vocally and visually. Irina Arkhipova, in my estimation the greatest female voice of Russia in the post-World War II era, is a suitably regal (if visually rather elderly) Marina, in resplendent voice. Her husband, Vladislav Piavko, is the monk Grigori who becomes the false Dmitri. I am convinced that (shades of Richard Bonynge) he gained a prominence he never deserved due to his marriage. While he styled himself a heroic tenor (Radamès was also one of his roles), he always sounded overparted. Here he is serviceable, albeit not ingratiating in his lower and middle registers, but his upper register is strained and less than ideally steady. The Pimen is solid, with a slight spread in his top notes; the Varlaam is somewhat crude vocally but dispatches his aria with gusto. Among the other female singers, the Feodor is excellent, and the Nurse and Xenia secure, but the Hostess overripe. Among the comprimario male singers, Alexei Maslennikov is as always a superlative Simpleton, and the others good to acceptable except for an overly whiny Missail and excessively grating Shuisky. While the casting of Rangoni is listed, his is a mute part here, limited to walking onstage to make the sign of the cross from a distance over Marina and the false Dmitri as they embrace. However, the overall ensemble tends to minimize the defects and emphasize the strengths. The chorus is quite fine, and veteran maestro Boris Khaikin has matters well in hand from the orchestral pit.
While this is not an ideal Boris, it is, as I noted before, much better than most of the limited competition on DVD. The only real alternative is the 1990 Kirov production on Philips of Andrei Tarkovsky’s sometimes idiosyncratic but always engrossing staging, led by Valery Gergiev and starring Robert Lloyd with an otherwise all-Russian cast. The 1954 film version on VAI, conducted by Vassily Nelbolsin and starring Alexander Pirogov and Georg Nelepp, is of historical interest but badly cut. On CD, the leading choices remain Gergiev’s dual set of the 1869 and 1872 versions (Philips), Jerzy Semkov’s conflated 1869/1872 ultra-complete version (EMI), Herbert von Karajan’s Rolls-Royce edition of the Rimsky-Korsakov/Ippolitov-Ivanov edition of the 1872 version (DG), and for historical collectors, the slightly abridged 1952 Issay Dobrowen recording with Boris Christoff (EMI and other labels), and the abridged 1948 recording conducted by Nicolai Golovanov (various labels) with the incomparable Mark Reizen challenging Feodor Chaliapin as the Boris of the ages.
great opera of all timeMay 23, 2014By Denton Moers (Houston, TX)See All My Reviews"watching Boris Godunov is like turning the clock back in time to 16th century Russia. the historical content is what appeals to me. one opera that appeals to me is that of Prince Igor. i plan on ordering 4 more Russian opera dvds in the near future. all of which are by Tchaikovsky. i personally would very highly recommend Boris Godunov to anyone who likes great drama with some history as well.-------Denton Moers"Report Abuse