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Work of the week – Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov

On 7 June Ivo Van Hove’s new production of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov will begin at the Opéra Bastille in Paris. Vladimir Jurowski will conduct, Ildar Abdrazakov will sing the role of Boris Godunov, and stage design and costumes are by Jan Versweyveld and An D’Huys respectively.

Mussorgsky’s first version of Boris Godunov from 1869 (later termed the “original Boris”), was initially rejected by the Imperial Theatres’ Music Committee, particularly due to the absence of a representative female role. Mussorgsky amended and expanded the work substantially over the following three years, but even the “revised Boris”, premiered in 1874 in St Petersburg, was rejected by the state censoring authority for political reasons and disposed of in 1882. Further adaptations by Mussorgsky, along with subsequent orchestrations by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Dmitri Shostakovich, meant that the original Boris Godunov was long concealed from the public eye. It was only when a critical edition was published in 1928, based on the work of Pawel Lamm, that the opera could be performed in its first intended form. It is this critical edition that Schott’s own edition is based upon.

Modest Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov: a folk drama in music

 Mussorgsky’s opera is based on Alexander Pushkin’s work on the historical figure of Boris Godunov, starting with the murder of the rightful heir Tsarevich Dimitri, and Boris’ ascent to the throne. As the new Tsar he takes charge of Russia during a famine, and despite his honest efforts to help the starving population of Russia, the country’s fate remains uncertain. Ultimately, it is the Russian people that become the central force to Boris Godunov, with impressive crowd scenes demonstrating the power they ultimately hold over the eponymous protagonist.

“To uncover the traits of human nature, wilfully delve into their unexplored depths, and conquer them  – that is the mission of a real artist. To new shores!” – Modest Mussorgsky

Following its opening night, eleven further performances of the opera will be staged at Opéra Bastille until 12 July 2018.


photo: Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse / Patrice Nin