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The Theatre says goodbye to Boris Godunov

The opera Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky will be performed in the Hvorostovsky Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theatre for the last time on November 30 and December 1. The costumes and scenery of the opera performance have been graciously leased to the Krasnoyarsk Opera House by the Bolshoi. After the last performance, they’ll be brought back to Moscow.

On February 7 and 8, 2014, the Krasnoyarsk audience had a unique opportunity to hear this work in its original form, which most accurately reflects the author’s intention. The production of Boris Godunov in Krasnoyarsk is a joint project of three theatres: The Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi and the Moscow Musical Theatre Novaya Opera. The premiere was dedicated to the 175th anniversary of the composer Modest Mussorgsky and happened in Krasnoyarsk exactly 140 years after the first production of this opera on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre.

The fate of the first author's edition of 1869 was dramatic. It was rejected by the literary and music committees of the Imperial Theatres. The reasons were its lack of an important female role and “unaccustomed language” of the opera. On 5 February 1873, the first performance of the opera’s revised version (1872) took place at the Mariinsky Theatre. The composer alternated the final scene of the opera - it ended with people’s insurgency, not with the death of Boris, as before. He added three scenes (the two Sandomierz scenes and the Kromï Scene), cut one (The Cathedral of Vasiliy the Blessed), and recomposed another (the Terem Scene). The modifications resulted in the addition of an important prima donna role (Marina Mniszech), the expansion of existing female roles (additional songs for the Hostess, Fyodor, and the Nurse), and the expansion of the first tenor role (the Pretender). These alternations shifted the focus from the Tsar Boris’ tragedy to the tragedy of the nation. But this version wasn’t the last one, either. Despite the rapturous reception by the audience, the opera was panned by critics.

Wishing to return Boris Godunov to the stage, Rimsky-Korsakov created two of his own versions on the basis of the second author's edition, which made the opera more “harmonious”. The Rimsky-Korsakov’s edition of the opera became a hit, triumphantly marched around the world and won fame.

But the musical director of the production in Krasnoyarsk, conductor Dmitri Volosnikov explained why he chose the author’s own version of the opera: “Because the play is called Boris Godunov, and Mussorgsky created the work about the man who takes responsibility for the country and dies under the pressure of this responsibility. Boris was a very good ruler. During his reign, state and cultural changes of a large scale took place, he strengthened the borders. And people started better living. But he was not very lucky - in the last three years of his reign there was a terrible drought, famine, and one-third of the state died out. The people rebelled. And the rumours about Boris’s guilt on the death of Tsarevich Dmitri weighed in on. Although, you know, in the Museum of Surgery, I met an academician who studied the remains of Dmitri - he claims that such a mark on his ribs would have been impossible to be caused by a murder. Most likely, the boy fatally injured himself while playing with his knife. But the rumours spread, and being a conscientious man Boris took the blame on himself.”

Director Nadezhda Stolbova considers it to be especially valuable that the opera’s protagonist, in her opinion, is not a murderer and not a hirer of an assassin. “In general, it’s a safe bet that Prince Dmitri was not murdered, anatomical evidence makes anyone doubt the fact of murder. Perhaps he ran onto his own little knife during the game and died. But he was surrounded by Godunov’s people, and Boris takes all the blame on himself. He had sinned more than once in his life and survived the oprichnina’s times. He walked to power not along the red carpet, but along the bloody tracks. But he was a good sovereign and did a lot for his nation during the short term of his rule. Hundred years before Peter the Great, Boris sent the Russian nobles to study in Europe. His daughter Xenia was well-educated, she read books, which was a rare pastime at that time. His son Tsarevich Fyodor, also a very erudite man, drew a map of Russia - it has survived up to the present day. Can you imagine what the atmosphere was in the family of Godunov? But thanks to Pushkin’s play, we got used to considering him a murderer, and this wipes out all the gains of this extraordinary ruler in the public perception. What makes Mussorgsky so great, and why conductor Dmitry Volosnikov and I chose to take his author's editorship is that the composer was interested not in political and social conditions of this story, but in the fate of a person. You know, as Stanislavsky said, a theatre should be about a person, for a person and through a person. At the end of the opera, by the way, Mussorgsky justifies Boris. Through music - the opera’s finale is sublime. And we follow the composer.”

Authentic costumes and scenery, which can be seen in the Boris Godunov performance, were made according to the sketches of famous theatrical artists Pavel Kaplevich and Yuri Kooper. Also, nine real Orthodox bells were cast in the town of Tutaev, Yaroslavl Region, especially for the Krasnoyarsk production. Right from the premiere of Boris Godunov in our Opera House, they were set forever on the backstage of the theatre.