Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Mussorgsky
WORKS: Boris Godunov
PERFORMER: Robert Lloyd, Olga Borodina, Alexei Steblianko, Sergei Leiferkus; Kirov Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev; dir. Andrei Tarkovsky (Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 1990)
CATALOGUE NO: 075 089-9
Film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky’s death prevented him refining this revival of his 1983 London production. It’s a hybrid of rough or ceremonial naturalism (chorus scenes), exaggerated comedy (the inn on the border) and illustrative filmic drop-ins (a child ghost of the murdered Dmitri). It is not that these elements are foreign or obstructive to the wide stylistic canvas of Mussorgsky’s and Pushkin’s narrative. But — in an opera where ‘the people’ are a soloist in their own right – the Kirov chorus, generous of voice and (of course) national spirit, and the Kirov’s extras could not at that time match the acting and dancing of their Royal Opera predecessors.

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Their scenes lack the control of the solo work. Here, Robert Lloyd balances the neurosis and the majesty of the title role in a reading that never resorts to Chaliapin-like hysterics, and Steblianko makes a real journey out of pretender Dmitri’s rise. The lustre of Borodina’s Marina and the black solidity of Leiferkus’s oily Jesuit are virtuosic but carefully integrated.

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Gergiev brings the original 1872 Mussorgsky version back home with his orchestra on trenchant form. The sound recording (a Decca team) is fine, as are the pictures, technically. But the big, public scenes ate a bumpy mixture of oddly chosen close-ups and sudden pull-backs. Humphrey Burton’s cameras seem uninvolved in, even surprised by, the tale being told by the production. Mike Ashman