On November 3rd, the universally acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev brings Saint Petersburg’s own Mariinsky Theatre to The Barbican Hall. Having served as the theatre’s General director for the last quarter-century, Gergiev has been at the forefront of the Mariinsky’s recent innovations, reviving various neglected and underperformed Russian operas during his tenure. It comes as no surprise, then, that Gergiev will be conducting two rather unusual operas upon his arrival: the underperformed Original Version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and The Left Hander, a comic opera by the living Russian composer, Rodion Schedrin.
While we would suggest getting hold of tickets for both, it is Mussorgsky’s timeless creation that piques our interest the most. Grounded in Russian history, Boris Godunov takes place during “The Time of Troubles”, a particularly violent period of interregnum between the reigns of the Rurik and Romanov Dynasties at the beginning of the 17th Century. Its literary source is Pushkin’s drama of the same name, to which Mussorgsky repeatedly referred when writing his own libretto. As a meditation on power, Boris Godunov has been aligned by many critics with Shakespeare’s Richard III. Like Shakespeare’s protagonist, Godunov has committed terrible crimes in order to ascend to power, having ordered the murder of the eight-year-old Prince Tsarevich in the years preceding Mussorgsky’s setting. Godunov’s unrelenting guilt for the child’s murder, and its manifestations in a series of dreams and visions, drives the story to its fatal conclusion. Much in the way of Richard III, then, the political narrative of Mussorgsky’s opera is channeled through the psychology of its protagonist.
Having appeared in various guises, including two versions attributed to the composer and numerous revisions from the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich, Boris Godunov has a performance history that is as chaotic and tangled as the political history it recounts. We are particularly excited to learn that Gergiev is bringing to London the original 1869 version, which has been severely neglected until fairly recently. Mussorgsky’s original Boris Godunov was initially rejected by the Mariinsky Theatre on the apparent grounds that it did not contain a prominent female role. There may well be aesthetic reasons for this decision as well: Boris Godunov contains all of the hallmarks of Mussorgsky’s roughly-hewn compositional style, and apparent disregard for the finer points of compositional technique and orchestration. These features of Mussorgsky’s music, having repelled the musical pedants of the time, are what makes work like Boris Godunov so attractive today: Mussorgsky’s is a highly individual and exciting compositional voice, for all of its apparent brutality.
We imagine that this performance will sell out quickly, so book early to catch this rugged and riveting piece of Russian music-drama rendered by a conductor and company at the height of their powers.
|What||Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Barbican|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
On 03 Nov 14, 7:00 PM
|Price||£15–£65 plus booking fee|
|Website||Click here to book through the Barbican's website.|