Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for Covent Garden was restaged in 1990 by the Kirov in St. Petersburg with, Tarkovsky by this time no more, Stephen Lawless directing. It being Tarkovsky I had expectations of something really interesting (perhaps a four hour silent opera?) but it’s not really. In fact Tarkovsky seems to have been intimidated by the form or foiled by its technical limitations into producing a lavish but ultimately not very consequential production. The AMOP crowd would thoroughly approve I think.
So, the full 1892 version; Polish scene and all, is presented. The choice is made to end in Kromsky Forest with the prognostications of Doom to come rather than with the death of Boris. Otherwise it’s straightforward with heavy costumes and that “big opera” acting one sees so often in recordings from this period which tends to look histrionic on video. The crowd scenes are elaborate with a big chorus and lots of supers and, in the Polish act, pretty decent dancers.
Musically though this is very fine. There’s a strong cast across the board and all Russian except for Robert Lloyd as Boris. He is is a stand out with powerful but never coarse singing. Fine performances too from Yevgeny Boitsov as a really slimy Shuisky, Alexei Steblianko as a very heroic sounding “false” Dmitri and Alexander Morosov as a dignified Pimen. Olga Borodina sounds absolutely gorgeous in the Polish act and is well matched by Sergei Leiferkus as a really rather nasty but wonderfully sung Rangoni. My only beef with the casting would be that Larissa Dyatkova looks and sounds very feminine as Feodor. Valery Gergiev conducts and fully brings out the many beauties of this long, rather quirky, but often ravishing score.
Humphrey Burton video directed for the BBC. It’s a very good effort but is frustrated somewhat by the picture quality when he goes for long shots. This is 1990 TV quality and the detail just isn’t there. It’s also, of course, 4:3 aspect ratio. Sound on the other hand is excellent. The original is PCM stereo which sounds CD quality. There’s also “synthesised” DTS surround sound. That’s pretty good too. There are no extras on the disk but the booklet, besides track listing and synopsis has a historical essay on the piece and a second on Tarkovsky’s approach to it. Subtitles are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.
There aren’t too many recordings of Boris Godunov in the catalogue and this may be the only one of the full 1892 version. It definitely has strengths though I find the production rather dull and the picture quality only just bearable. For a very different take there’s Bieito’s very bleak Munich production. You pays yer money…