Back from Boris Godunov at the San Diego Opera and well worth the trip, I say. We’d never seen Boris live before, although we had watched the Rimsky-Korsakov version on disk. SD’s original Moussorgsky version is, indeed, a rather different animal, more of the Russian bearish variety. One almost gets the feeling that RK was trying to clean it up for the mass market, like pairing Pete Seeger and the Weavers with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra. Think
I’d heard it said that M’s Boris is remote, but I wouldn’t put much stock in that. Maybe it was remote in the 1860s, there is nothing alien about it today. M does seem to use what I take to be Russian folk themes—but so many others have done so since (On the way home, I think I heard bits of Stravinsky resonating somewhere in the background—also Bartok, and yes, I know he isn’t Russian). Indeed the only real bar to enjoying M would seem to be that we’ve all had our minds poisoned by repeated ministrations of Pictures at an Exhibition in music-appreciation class when we were young, so it is a perhaps a mercy that we can stump up any enthusiasm for M at all (Dah Duh Dah da-da Dah, da-da Dah, Duh Dah Duh Dah…).
The Italian Ferruccio Furlanetto, billed as “the first Italian ever to sing Boris” is a curious piece of business. It’s a bass role, and he is billed as a bass, but a web check makes it clear that he moonlights as a bariton (link). Furlanetto doesn’t have that soupçon of weirdness you expect from a first-class basso, and Boris needs it—after all, he is the tsar. In the first act, Furlanetto almost got lost in the crowd. In the boffo introspective numbers of the second act, he did better, with a lot of drama and psychological range.
The San Diego opera house puts me in mind of the New York City Opera and the Kennedy Center—an attempt at grandeur that ends up reminding you a bit too much of cubicle furniture. Comfy seats in dress circle (we came early for the lecture), more brutal in the balcony.
Fn: Accepted spelling seems to be GOdunov, but English speakers seem determined to say GUduhnov, not so?