DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov, Blu-ray (2010)

The ultimate Boris Godunov? Probably not, but while we are waiting it more than fills the gap.

Published on June 7, 2012

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov, Blu-ray (2010) 

Complete opera version by Andrei Konchalovsky
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Cast: Orlin Anastassov (Boris)/ Alessandra Marianelli (Xenia)/ Pavel Zubov (Fyodor)/ Ian Story (Girgory)/ Vladimir Vaneev (Pimen)/ Peter Bronder (Prince Shuisky); Children’s Choir of the Teatro Regio and the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, Turin Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Regio
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Studio: Opus Arte 7087D [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD Color
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, PCM Stereo 2.0
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish
Length: 165 minutes
Extras: Interviews with Andrei Konchalovsky and Gianandrea Noseda; Cast gallery
Rating: ****

First things first; while there are a number of DVD Godunov’s available at the moment, including a very desirable 1978 Bolshoi production, this issue under review is the only high-def Blu-ray available. Fortunately for us it is a good one, more than serviceable for even the most critical Boris fan. A word about the version—there are, in reality, only two genuine ones. The first, completed in 1869, follows the Pushkin dramatic chronicle text quite closely, reducing its 25-odd scenes into eight. There is no significant female part, and the overall tenor of the piece is quite dark, introverted, psychological, and inverse-perspective. The second, done a few years later after the opera was rejected for production because of the very lack of a female part, trimmed music and scenes, rearranged some things, became more visually stimulating, added a female role, and more female presence in general, generally attempting to be more “operatic” in nature.

The problem in deciding between the two is that there is no indication that Mussorgsky, when finishing the rather radical second version, expressed any kind of reserve at having had to create number two. On the contrary, he seems genuinely excited about the prospects of the second version, giving nary a glance at the abandoned and rejected first one. For the composer, at the time of his death, Boris Godunov was the 1872 version, hands down.

So why are we continually obsessed with “authenticity” in this matter? One problem was the interference of one Rimsky-Korsakoff, who proceeded to reinvent the opera in his own exotic and highly lush image. Rimsky did not understand that Mussorgsky’s oddly middle-range orchestration and sparse lines were meant for dark dramatic effect and not simple incompetence in orchestration. And he felt that the dramatic sequencing of the opera was ineffectual; even though the 1872 version went a long way in making the work more acceptable to a general opera audience, his version would “grand-operaize” it to the extent of flamboyance beyond Mussorgsky’s wildest dreams. It was this new concept that took the opera world by storm and made it the de facto version of choice for the next 100 years.

But with the advent of the authenticity movement in music, more pristine versions were being given a second look, and the 1872 version is now the established text, though there are inevitably tinkering’s that will continue to occur. Mussorgsky would undoubtedly be happy with the current state of affairs, but the lingering curiosity about the first, more introspective and gothic version of the work remains, and in the new production from the Italians we have the first version in pristine form with the exception of the addition of the last scene in the 1872 version, added because director and conductor Andrei Konchalovsky and Gianandrea Noseda were convinced that a special reordering needed to be done in accordance with Mussorgsky’s own doubts about the final scenes.

I have to say what they have done works, but as to whether this last scene from the revised version “needed” to be added will remain an item of controversy. As is, the production is nicely conceived, beautifully filmed and recorded, sparsely staged though perfectly in conformance with the spirit of the original, and sung extremely well. No matter what might follow it, I feel certain that this Boris sets a suitably high standard for the future—intelligent, non-willful, and well thought out.

Steven Ritter




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