Monday, 11 April 2016

Macbeth and Banquo à la russe (ROH/Boris Godunov)

Modest Musorgsky, Boris Gudunov, [original version] (Antonio Pappano cond. Orchestra Royal Opera House

In a curious way, the orchestral setting to Boris Gudunov is surprisingly unmusical. on Wednesday, 4th April the emphasis was on texture and sound-scape rather than music in the traditional sense of the word. My impression was it must be extraordinarily difficult to play. Heavy on percuss ions and texture rather than melodies: there weren’t many people whistling tunes on the way home. The pared back style seemed light-years ahead: reminiscent of Glass in some moments. Pappano had, as one would expect, got every drop of music out of it, as if his life depended on it. 

It's a long sit. Around two and a half hours with no interval. The intention is build up dramatic tension, but I fear a comfort break would have been a good idea. Over seven scenes, two tsars dies (one many times), Boris becomes Tsar and is subsequently deposed.  This is mostly a boys club, but best amongst them is surely the pair of fairly dodgy monks - played with at least a touch of Falstaff by John Tomlinson (Varlaam) and Harry Nicoll (Missail). Comic acting down to a fine art here: and for Tomlinson most certainly the biggest and heartiest chear was reserved at the curtain-call.

Indeed the cast was strong throughout, and it might do well to note that Andrew Tortise, who seems to be everywhere  at the moment (well this, anyway), made a very fine Holy Fool. It was Bryn's first Russian role apparently, and you wouldn't have known. I fancy there was a tiny hint of valleys there, but to be honest, I could hardly discern the steppe without any Russian. I suspect this is rather more forgiving than in the big Italian and German roles which are so well known. He had exactly the right presence and seemed truly haunted by the murder of the young heir.

It is becoming an unpleasant feature at Covent Garden that the easily-shocked brigade are out in force, much to the delight of various tabloid newspapers (which don't carry reviews needless to say). Shock horror: opera about murder and intrigue and power features errr...murder. The motif of repeatedly murdering the heir-apparent (history books of the time say the seven year old took his own life; not too likely, but let's set that aside for now) was played out above the action on stage. As the child played with a spinning top, it's throat was split; in this way he repeatedly haunted Boris. A rather effective Russian Macbeth & Banquo then, made explicit in Richard Jones' new production. Outraged of Tunbridge Wells would presumably they skip past the awkward bloody bits and just swan around in nice costumes.
Overall: an effective evening of Russian history set to music.
Cast and credits

Music - Modest Musorgsky
Director - Richard Jones
Set designer - Miriam Buether
Costume designer - Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting designer - Mimi Jordan Sherin
Movement director - Ben Wright
Conductor - Antonio Pappano
Boris Godunov - Bryn Terfel
Prince Shuisky - John Graham-Hall
Andrey Shchelkalov - Kostas Smoriginas
Grigory Otrepiev - David Butt Philip
Pimen - Ain Anger
Varlaam - John Tomlinson
Missail - Harry Nicoll
Yurodivy (Holy Fool) - Andrew Tortise
Xenia - Vlada Borovko
Xenia's Nurse - Sarah Pring
Hostess of the inn - Rebecca de Pont Davies
Mityukha - Adrian Clarke
Frontier Guard - James Platt
Fyodor - Ben Knight
Nikitich - Jeremy White
Boyar - Nicholas Sales
Chorus - Royal Opera Chorus
Concert master - Peter Manning
Orchestra - Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

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