IN: News & Features

CLT Aims for Full-Bore Boris


Moussorgsky by Ilya Repin
Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin

Commonwealth Lyric Theater’s audacity in producing Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky is anything but Modest. Even in a staging that strives for no major opera house standards, the attempt of the large fearless group of dramatic and outgoing Russians and Ukrainians stands somehow akin to casting the Tsar Bell. The vocal caliber and commitment of this group invariably opens to full-bore.

The first two performances will inaugurate Opera Garden, the artistic director’s backyard at 381 Dudley Road in Newton. Even with piano accompaniment (Alexander Pokidchenko on Friday and Alexander Poliykov on Saturday) and some nontraditional elements, the Friday and Saturday shows will constitute fully staged/costumed realizations for the 200 in attendance. On May 24th and May 26th, the action moves indoors to the Newton City Hall Auditorium, as an orchestra of 29 under Adrian Bryttan joins the large cast.

The Met on Tour brought Boris to the late, lamented Opera House on Huntington Ave. in 1940 (and as I recall, to the Wang Center in the 70s), Sarah Caldwell mounted it in 1965, and Teatro Lirico d’Europa offered a concert version in 2003.

CLT’s other many well-received productions augur well for the sonic pleasures this Boris may afford.

According to executive director Olga Lisovskaya, “This operatic thriller looks deep into the tortured conscience of the Russian Tsar, Boris Godunov, who reigned from 1585 to 1605. The orchestration is rich, the passions are high.

“With six famous editions and many others that are not as famous to draw from, we took Mussorgsky’s original, 1869 version (without the Polish Act), but added a few scenes from his 1872  revision, plus we used Rimsky-Korsakov’s much later orchestration. This will stand as our  CLT version. Compared with the original Mussorgsky version (regarding structure, harmonies and dramatic effect), Rimsky-Korsakov’s edits are in nearly every detail welcome and effective changes. In addition to tightening up many parts of the score, Rimsky-Korsakov cloaked all the music in wonderful memorable orchestral colors.

It is a tribute to the genius of Mussorgsky that the expressive beauties and dramatic power of Boris Godunov can emerge in CLT’s reduced dimensions.

Stage Director, Alexander Prokhorov, chose to set the action in modern time, adding timeless elements to sets and costumes. Two of the performances will take place outdoors, with three different stages built in a garden. The two remaining performances will be with orchestra, led by conductor Adrian Bryttan. The production is part of the Newton Arts Festival.

The fully staged/costumed production comprises an international array of soloists, and choruses.”

Mikail Urosov as Prince Shujsky rehearses with

Commonwealth Lyric Theater presents  Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov

Friday, May 20, 2016 at 8PM at Opera Garden, 381 Dudley Rd., Newton
Saturday May 21, 2016 at 8PM at Opera Garden, 381 Dudley Rd., Newton
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 8PM at Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Ave.
Thursday, May 26, at 8PM at Newton City Hall, 1000 Commonwealth Ave.

The extensive cast is represented below:





5 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Have been eagerly awaiting this since its first announcing. Now I might see both the piano and orchestra versions. I believe the story is from the Pushkin play of the same name.
    O to have to be in two or more places at the same time! This or Beowulf.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — May 19, 2016 at 9:49 pm

  2. Sarah Caldwell presented Boris twice, in 1965 in the original instrumentation of the composer with George London, again in 1966 with Boris Christoff, both times sung in Russian.

    The Met presented it in English in 1963 with Jeromes Hines, in Russian in 1978 with John Macurdy, and in 1983 with Sergei Koptchak. These performances all used the Shostakovich orchestration.

    Previously the Met brought it in 1916 (Adamo Didur in Italian), in 1940 & 1947 with Ezio Pinza (in Italian), and in 1956 with Cesare Siepi (in English).

    The Chicago Opera brought it in 1924 & 1925 with Feodor Chaliapin. He sang in Russian, the others in Italian. In 1927 the Chicago company presented it in Italian with Vanni-Marcoux.

    In 1922 there was a two-week season by a touring company called Russian Grand Opera. Besides Boris they also presented Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Pique Dame, Mazeppa, and what was billed as Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Eve but was his Vakula the Smith or Cherevichki. It also mounted Rubinstein’s The Demon, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snegourochka and Tsar’s Bride, a real novelty Valentin Valentinov’s Night of Love, and Faust & La Juive sung in Russian..

    Comment by Dennis Milford — May 21, 2016 at 3:14 am

  3. “Rimsky-Korsakov cloaked all the music in wonderful memorable orchestral colors”. The word “cloaked” is well-chosen. May the devil deliver us from friends with good intentions. For what he did to Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov deserves to have his works updated in Hell by a committee of demon-composers under the joint direction of György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis. I cannot imagine a punishment for Shostakovich that would not just roll off, so I’ll leave him to punish himself, at which I’m sure he will be very effective.

    I have seen it asserted that Rimsky never believed he was improving Mussorgsky’s music, but just did what he thought was necessary to get it heard. I doubt this, but if it is true he may be absolved from having to listen to the demon-comittee’s work. It must go on, however. I really want to hear Karlheinz Stockhausen’s re-orchestration of Scheherazade.

    By the way, I do not mean to suggest that Ligeti, Xenakis, and Stockhausen are in Hell. They could just be visiting. Composers-in-residence, as it were.

    Comment by SamW — May 21, 2016 at 2:49 pm

  4. Only time for a short piece on the May 24th performance..but do Make Tracks and see this one at the last performance Thursday; wish there were more. The house (Newton City Hall) is not a large space and the sight lines gave problems due to the flatness of the floor; at some points one could not see what was happening in front tho’ one could hear it. But the imaginative staging making use of the hall’s layout for occasional forays into “theater-in-the-round” action out among the audience is an example of the sort of thing that we wish the so-called “Eurotrash” had been. House was nearly sold out–maybe 10 seats at most left when the conductor lifted his baton. You will remember this one. Yes, it is a condensed Boris and a full-bore Total Boris (Russian Grand Opera) must be something to see, but again: you will remember this Boris. No, not for the rough edges, such as one picture out of four being held upside-down in the coronation scene: was this a deliberate representation of discontent among the masses, or just one of the accidents of live theater? Anyways the singing was excellent and the orchestra met the challenge; once the coronation scene got underway we knew we were in good hands for some great theater. Thanks to the Commonwealth Lyric for tackling this ambitious project. Also thanks to them for providing a program with both plot synopsis and story/opera background. (There are outfits seriously deficient on that score, but not here.)

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — May 25, 2016 at 12:31 am

  5. Our official review should follow tomorrow. Thanks for this short one.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — May 25, 2016 at 12:36 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, this comment forum is now closed.