Musorgsky: Khovanshchina

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Khovanshchina
PERFORMER: Paata Burchuladze, Klaus Florian Vogt, John Daszak, Valery Alexejev, Anatoli Kotscherga, Doris Soffel, Helena Jungwirth, Lana Kos, Anaïk Morel, Ulrich Ress, Camilla Nylund; Bavarian State Opera and Orchestra/Kent Nagano; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Munich, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: 2072428 (NTSC system; DTS 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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A new DVD of Musorgsky’s last, huge and fragmentary opera has to overcome two main hurdles: the first is that Claudio Abbado’s DVD recording on Arthaus is so superlative in all respects that there has to be convincing evidence that another is needed.
 
The second is that the work itself remains daunting, with its huge discussions of politics between bass singers alternating with crowd scenes in which the appalling fate of Mother Russia is lamented yet again. 
 
This new recording, live from Munich, is set, as almost all new operatic productions are, in the present – Musorgsky was portraying Russia shortly before Peter the Great came to power.
 
And the present consists of colourless corridors and offices, with identically-clothed politicians holding forth in them; and above, two smaller offices, where the eventual rulers of Russia observe and presumably scheme.
 
You will look in vain for any visual appeal. So concentration is focused on the large quantity of discussion and the small quantity of action; and even the last scene, in which the Old Believers go up in smoke, merely consists of their holding hands and singing, so is no kind of dramatic climax.
 
The singers are fine, many of them also to be found in the Abbado set. The vital contributions of the two female singers are made by the excellent Doris Soffel and Camilla Nylund.
 
Kent Nagano shows again that he is a fine conductor of large, demanding scores. But the Abbado is so much more atmospheric and intense that there is really no competition. Michael Tanner