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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, December 17, 2007

DVD Review: Songs From the Big Chair

Boris Godunov at the Liceu
In the capable hands of director Willy Decker and conductor Sebastian Weigle, this production of Boris Godunov (filmed at the Teatre de Liceu in Barcelona) , the Liceu Boris becomes more than a radical work that changed Russian opera forever. It becomes the first great political thriller of the stage.

Matti Salminen and Erik Halfvarson are both basses, and both known for their huge, round dark voices that have led them to build their careers around the role of the villain Hagen in Wagner's Götterdämmerung. Salminen takes the title role into his massive hands and delivers a thunderous performance, swinging between grim self-defeat and stark terror in the mad scenes. Halfvarson, as the monk, Pimen is the more emotionally stable of the two--his opening monologue is riveting. The two great basses finally confront each other in the Duma scene, now moved to the close of the opera.

This is Boris as Mussorgsky originally conceived it--seven tableaux clocking in at two and a half hours. In this production, there is no Polish act. Grigory's part is accordingly diminished. Princess Marina and the Jesuit, Rangoni are cut completely. Also cut out, the Kromy Forest scene--replaced here by the confrontation before St. Basil's. However, these cuts have their advantages. While Grigory (the appealing tenor Pär Lindskog) is reduced to a mere historical footbote against the grand drama of Boris, the shadowy schemes of Shuisky (the excellent Philip Langridge) now come to the fore.

Director Willy Decker has opted against the tradiitonal Russian look, choosing a quasi-fascist 20th century setting that opens with Boris in a well-cut business suit before he becomes tsar. The set consists of a wide open space dominated by an enormous, gilded wooden chair--which serves as scenery and blocking as well as the central image of the Russian throne. The seat is literally too big for any one man--perhaps that is the idea. The spare set gives the choristers plenty of space to move and act, allowing them to dominate this opera when the two great basses are not onstage.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.