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Musorgsky: Boris Godunov (ROH/Pappano)

Bryn Terfel et al; Royal Opera House Orch. & Chorus/Antonio Pappano (Opus Arte)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Boris Godunov
Bryn Terfel et al; Royal Opera House Orch. & Chorus/Antonio Pappano; dir. Richard Jones (London, 2016)
Opus Arte DVD: OA1376D; Blu-ray: OABD7314D   139 mins

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Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera have plumped for the ‘original’ version of Musorgsky’s masterpiece, although it’s perhaps best to agree that there are a number of different Boris Godunov’s rather than an ‘original’ and a ‘revised’. So, no Polish Act in Richard Jones’s production for Covent Garden and no final scene in Kromi Forest. And an altogether darker experience on the ear with Pappano probing Musorgsky’s penumbral palette

Jones divides the stage between an upper gallery where we see the innocent Dmitry murdered and Boris refuse the Crown, and a space below for the Russian people dressed in that operatic never-never land style that is both past and present. Here too is Pimen’s cell, the inn on the Lithuanian frontier and the Boyars Council where the snake-eyed Prince Shuisky, in a deeply malevolent performance from John Graham Hall, reveals that Boris is falling apart. How the theme of political legitimacy connects these two worlds is at the heart of Jones’s production.

Bryn Terfel may be a more baritonal Boris than we have come to expect but it’s a compelling performance. This is no psychopath in pursuit of power but a man tender with his children yet terrified at the thought of how he reached the throne. And what luxury to have John Tomlinson as Varlaam the merry monk. But it’s the chorus who are the stars in this opera, and what sublime singing Renato Balsadonna coaxes from his Covent Garden cohort.

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Christoper Cook