Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Scoop on Boris

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 Turgenev, Russia’s greatest European novelist, versus Tolstoy/Dostoevsky, Russia’s greatest Russian novelists.

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…).

What San Diego offered was a disciplined, tightly constructed, coherent performance, nicely directed (Lofti Mansouri, retired former general director at San Francisco) and conducted (Valey Ryvkin from Santa Barbara). The singing was adequate but not of the gobsmack variety.

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.

One surprise: I really wouldn’t have guessed that there was so much fur and so many tuxedos this close to the Tahiti. But it was opening night, and I guess opening night at the opera is part of the annual calendar of elite display, just anywhere. Most places, those dress circle seats empty out after the first act and get recycled to the SROs. Can’t say that it happened here, we didn’t check.

Fn: Accepted spelling seems to be GOdunov, but English speakers seem determined to say GUduhnov, not so?


Anonymous said...

Look to the russian spelling. I'm sure it is spelled годунов which would not be pronounced as GOH-DOO-NOV in russian. The first syllable would be more of a long-A sound. I'm no linguist, so I don't know the correct terminology for such things, but often, when you see english words rendered phonetically in cyrillic, you will see long a's replaced with the cyrillic o character. Just yesterday, I saw the words jigsaw rendered in cyrillic as джигсо.

Buce said...

I always liked the signs that say


aka "restoran," i.e., "restaurant." Food was usually terrible, though.

New York Crank said...

You can lead a horse to borscht, but you cannot make it taste good.

Neither the soup nor the horse.

Oh, nevermind!

Buce said...

Crank, I was talking about Boris Godunov. You are perhaps thinking of his brother, Borscht Godunov, who eked out a long and blameless life as a beet wrangler for the Minsk market garden.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, 'pectopah' was my first russian word and seeing those signs is what allowed me to learn cyrillic. I was on a school trip in the 80's in Moscow and I kept seeing 'pectopah' everywhere. Eventually, I noticed the same word on a menu and put 2 and 2 together and realized it said restoran, which I had been hearing from our 'guide.' From that point, I started using the phonetic rendering of russian words on streetsigns to learn the cyrillic alphabet, something I figured would be a useless skill in the long run. Instead, 20 years later, I find myself in Moscow every other month, and being able to read cyrillic was crucial at the beginning, when attempting to navigate the metro on my own. Interestingly, there are a lot fewer signs with phonetic spelling in latin characters under the cyrillic these days.

Oh, and New York Crank, in Russia, it is Borsch. It is only Borscht in some of the baltics, I believe.

And just cause we're talking russia, the single greatest russia blog I've seen (no affiliation, of course), is . I highly recommend it.