Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ opens the season at La Scala in Milan, with Riccardo Chailly at the helm


Chailly, the Russian teacher

Milan. 12/13/2022. Teatro alla Scala. Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov. Ildar Abdrazakov (Boris Godunov). Lylly Jorstad (Fedor). Anna Denisova (Ksenija). Ain Anger (Pimen). Stanislav Trofimov (Varlaam). Alexey Markov (Scelkalov). Norbert Ernst (Vasilij Sujskij and others. Riccardo Chailly, musical direction. Kasper Holten, stage direction.

The Teatro alla Scala from Milan has decided to open its season this year with one of the most outstanding titles in the operatic repertoire: Boris Godunov. That one of the most important theaters in the world opens, in these times of war and horror starring a Russian tyrant and his henchmen, with the most important opera that has been written in that country is quite a symbol. I suppose that an unscheduled symbol, since the title would already have been planned long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but even so, and despite some criticism, this masterpiece, also starring, in large part, by prominent singers, has gone ahead. russians. And directed by an Italian conductor, the owner of La Scala, Riccardo Chaillywho has become a true Russian teacher, one of those who elevated the Russian conducting school to the highest.

And it is that Chailly offers a version of Boris Godunov masterful, with a perfect mix of drama, strength and tension. Without concessions in the face of the gallery or the mere show (this opera often suffers from this evil) the Milanese maestro delved to the marrow of the drama that Modest Musorgski wrote and composed, and whose first version has been represented. His reading emphasizes that very special writing of the composer, who, on the one hand, sometimes seems to be ahead of his time and create sounds and melodies that will not be heard until forty years later, in musical impressionism and, on the other hand, has his roots in the Russian soul, in that folklore and in those orthodox songs that ooze spirituality. There is also room for romantic brushstrokes and almost tender melodies. But, above all, there is a global conception of a complex drama, rich in contrasts, and which Chailly presented to us in a spectacular way. This musical framework could not have been put on its feet without the unconditional support of a Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala who performed at a very high level in all their families, but above all the rope, which sounded like a true symbol of the Russian soul. An unforgettable musical version.

The other big winner of the night was Ildar Abdrazakov in the role of Boris. The Russian bass made an extraordinary display of his talent as a singer and his personal approach to a role that so many great predecessors have embodied. I suppose that the Russian tradition weighs when facing the most emblematic role in his language, but Abdrazakov comes out on top of any comparison precisely because his characterization stems from his qualities as an actor and singer. He does not imitate anyone, he creates his Boris from him. A Tsar, in this 1869 version, the first one Mussorgsky wrote, which is the center of the story, in which everything revolves around him, with no more dramatic additions as will occur with the 1872 version, with the famous act Polish. The Russian bass is full of faculties. His voice, which may not reach the bass of other members of his line, has, on the other hand, tremendous versatility, achieving moments of enormous drama (the scene of madness) or exquisite lyricism as in the final scene of his death. with a whispered part that was simply thrilling and something only achievable by a singer of Abdrazakov’s tremendous quality. If we add to this a timbre of great beauty and an acting excellence that does not allow itself to be carried away by excesses, we have the result of a benchmark performance, which the theater audience endorsed with resounding bravos when they came out to greet, exhausted, at the end of the representation.

BorisScala22 to

Boris Godunov it has a protagonist and many secondary characters with a great presence in the work and, furthermore, it is a choral opera, in the literal sense of the word because the choir is an essential part of the drama. The music written by Mussorgsky for the choirs (whether it be the common people, the monks or the members of the Duma) is, simply, brilliant and of a quality that few works in the repertoire equal. The famous “Russian soul”, the silent people who almost always abide by the dictates of the tyrant, has his voice, hard, dramatic, torn, especially in the first scene of the opera and in the scene of the idiot. The Choir of the Teatro alla Scala that he directs is impressive Alberto Malazzi. All the strings performed at the highest level and perfectly bound, achieving moments of enormous beauty. We must also highlight the contribution of the Coro di voci bianche dell’accademia Teatro alla Scala, essential in the coronation scene.

The list of singers who accompanied the protagonist is long, but I would like to highlight especially Pimen de Ain Anger, true protagonist of the monastery scene, and who demonstrated his deep bass qualities with a narrated song that is much more difficult than it seems. also excellent Alexei Markov, like the secretary of the Dune, with a well-modulated voice and perfect technique. Less prominent was norbert ernst in the role of the intriguing Sujski. Although in general he defended his role well, he was weighed down by an acute third that was not very tuned. Very good the Varlaam of Stanislav Trofimov which gave us a joyous “Kazan song” and the Grigori of Dmitry Golovnin. The feminine section, scarce and of little relevance in this primarily masculine work, was also in excellent hands with Lilly Jørstad like Fëdor, the Tsar’s son, Anna Denisova like Ksenija, his daughter, the innkeeper from Maria Barakova and in a minor role but with a very attractive voice Agnieszka Rehlis like the nurse

BorisScala22 d

The well-known stage manager Kasper Holten he is responsible for this new production that opens the scalian season. And he really does it without shame or glory, without contributing anything new other than a stylization of all the dramatic elements that mark the various scenes and focusing the idea of ​​opera on the large-scale recreation of the original manuscript in different ways. from the drama: The History of the Russian State by Nikolai Karamzin, origin of Pushkin’s drama, which Musorgsky was inspired by. The manuscript that occupies the central part of the stage, falling from the top and changing as almost all the scenes do, develops the story illustrated with drawings. It is a beautiful proposal by the set designer Es Devlin but it simply frames the action, without any further contribution. The direction of the actors is correct (it shouldn’t be easy to move those choral masses), but also nothing that hasn’t been seen on other occasions. It is a production, in short, that does not bother and that perfectly allows the music to be the protagonist.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ opens the season at La Scala in Milan, with Riccardo Chailly at the helm