Musorgsky: Khovanshchina

COMPOSERS: Musorgsky
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Musorgsky
WORKS: Khovanshchina
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ognovenko, Vladimir Galouzine, Robert Brubaker, Nikolai Putilin, Vladimir Vaneev, Elena Zaremba, Graham Clark; Gran Teatre del liceu Chorus & SO/Michael Boder dir. Stein Winge (Barcelona 2007)
As anyone who’s sat throug the old Bolshoi staging can confirm, Khovanshchina – roughly, The Khovansky Affair – can seem pretty sterile, another gory gobbet of Russian history without stunning arias or a really sympathetic character; even the heronine’s a fanatic. Current DVD versions – Abbado’s Vienna staging and Gergiev’s Mariinksy recording (miserably transferred on Immortal) – are musically excellent but dramatically inhibited. The more welcome, therefore, a modern production which for all its weaknesses snaps the opera to life. Michael Boder isn’t as poetic a conductor as Abbado or Gergiew, although he, oo, uses the sparer Shostakovich orchestration. with some tolerable cuts, plus Guerassim Voronkov’s quietly effective finale instead of Stravinsky’s. His tempos are expansive in keeping with Stein Winge’s production. This display the obligatory Germanic idiocies – gratuitous violence, schlock-horrow corpses – and of course updating, in this case to the 1950s, nominally, but cancelled out by circa 1910 costumes! Otherwise, Winge points the drama keenly, thanks to a cracking cast. Vladimir Ognovenko is a lighter-voiced Prince Khovansky than usual, but his swashbuckling characterisation makes this murderous old monster almost sympathetic. Vaneec’s Dosifey (Dositheur), patriarch of the Old Believers, is also bass-baritonal and less paternal,more worldly. Robert Brunaker’s reforming Prince Golitsyn, looking deliberately Americanised, is their characterfl tragic foil. Vladimir Galouzine’s once steely tenor is considerably blunted, but he’s a suitably callow Andrei Khovansky; and his ex-lover and nemesis, the visionary Marfa, Elena Zaremba is compelling. Graham Clark’s Scribe is amusing, and only Nikolai Putilin’s Shaklovity, sounds rather superannuated. The chorus can’t match real Russians, and the worst blot is the appalling English subtitles.