It has been a long time since I have been to see an opera that I did not know to some degree. But heading to the movie theater last night for the Encore Performance of the HD broadcast of the Met's new Boris Godunov I knew that I was in for a unique experience on several different levels. For one thing, I did not know the opera - that includes the music or the plot. I had planned to read through the synopsis but time got away from me and I didn't get to it. I had also heard raves about this production. My former roommate from college is a member of the Met chorus and he had written to me to say that this production was outstanding and not to be missed. He was right.
But I want to stay with the experience of seeing something for the first time. A number of years ago I attended a production of "Marriage of Figaro" at Lyric Opera in Chicago. This was not a first for me, for if there is one opera I know it is Nozze. But sitting next to me was a young woman who was, I think, not only seeing her first Nozze but I am pretty sure was attending her first opera ever. Now, the plot of Nozze has some odd twists and turns and you really have to stay with it. But those of us who have seen it 100's of times loose sight of this I think. We know, for example, that Figaro is going to discover that Bartolo and Marcellina are actually his long lost parents. It is a silly and unexpected turn in the plot, but Mozart gave us this incredibly beautiful sextet to move through this plot twist. Well, so there I was sitting there, "sua madre." And when they got to that line in the recit that immediately preceedes the sextet the girl next to me let out a whoop of surprise and amusement and joy. She hadn't expected it. And it completely filled her with delight. Me too, I was moved that this novice opera goer was so moved and entertained and filled with joy because of the brilliance of Beaumarchais, DaPonte and Mozart.
Fast forward to Boris. Boris is also a brilliant work - albeit very different than Nozze. I was captivated from the beginning. Even though I didn't understand everything that happened in the first scene (who was that guy who was all bloody? And there was a baritone in a green top who sang off and on who I could never figure out exactly who he was) but it didn't matter. The terror and violence conveyed in the first scene set up the rest of the opera. The Holy Fool almost became my guide through the events to come. I experienced the story more viscerally than I would normally. The wonderful surprises in this production for me were as follows: Boris' monologues where he progressively get crazier and crazier. I knew Rene Pape would be good - but he was fantastic in this role. The scene in the Inn was dramatically captivating. The council chamber scene, also. And the final very violent closing scene which took place after the death of Boris, was unexpected and really was shocking for its violence. I really expected the opera to be over when Boris died. That last scene came as a complete surprise.
I could now tell you what a fantastic cast performed in the production, or how amazing the chorus was, or how incredible the orchestra is - all of that is true. But other reviewers have stated all of that much better than I. So let me say that what really stuck me in addition to these outstanding performances put in by the entire cast I would lift up some other elements of this production. 1st and foremost - the costumes - wow! I was also really impressed with the work of the supers. They could act and they added so much to the dramatic intensity. I loved how the director choreographed his crowd scenes and how he was able to maintain dramatic intensity through the entire opera. I loved the large book, with the cyrillic lettering. I loved the authenticity of the props - for example, they paid attention to details like the difference between the Russian Orthodox Cross and a Roman Cross and it made a difference. I also loved the orchestration and the use of woodwind color.
Finally - the boy who sang the child Feodor was outstanding (I haven't read any other reviews that mention him). And in closing I want to note that I thought it was way cool that Mussorgsky begins the opera with a bassoon solo in the upper register of the instrument and then the very last sound you heard at the end of the opera is the the sound of the bassoon, now in the low register. Fantastic!
2 years ago