Home » Classical Music » Review : Prom 2, Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov at the Royal Albert Hall on 16th July 2016

Review : Prom 2, Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov at the Royal Albert Hall on 16th July 2016

boris twit

After the First Night of the Proms, the season moves to opera for a star studded concert production of Boris Godunov.

The opera (in its original 1869 version) was recently produced at the Royal Opera House and this production features many of the singers, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the Royal Opera Chorus and the ever popular Sir Antonio Pappano conducting. There was plenty of anticipation amongst the Proms audience about the appearance of Bryn Terfel in the main role of Boris Gudonov.

Modest Mussorgsky is better known in the classical music world for his Pictures at an Exhibition and A Night on the Bare Mountain, however the successful premiere of Boris Godunov in 1874 was considered his greatest achievement before his tragic decline into alcoholism and depression which contributed to his death in 1881.

Although the Royal Albert Hall is a wonderful venue for an epic production, in this production it is the orchestra and the chorus that provide the visual and musical background for the singers who arrive and depart the stage. The opening provides evidence of the interplay of the chorus that often functions in a similiar way in a Greek drama providing commentary on the action and the main singers who sometimes address the chorus in reply. The arrival of the Machiavellian figure of Prince Shiusky ( John Graham – Hall) and the marvellously robed Boris ( Bryn Terfel ) for the coronation brought an impressive scene with church bells sounding from high above the arena. From the grandeur of this particular scene, we move to the simplicity of Chudov Monastery where Pimen (Ain Aiger) and Grigory ( David Butt Philip) provide some of the back story to the drama.

Over the next few scenes, we had a little comic relief with Varlaam (Andrii Goniukov) and Missail (Harry Nicoll), the introduction of the Tsar’s children Fyodor ( Ben Knight ) and Xenia ( Vlada Borovko ), towards the final scenes, Yorodiviy the Simpleton ( Andrew Tortoise ) and urchins fill the stage.

For all the wonderful performances by the other singers, Boris ( Bryn Terfel ) dominated the stage with his shows of affection, anger and disillusionment with power. In the final dying scene, he kneels on the stage asking forgiveness and the whole hall becomes transfixed by his final demise.

Unlike many operas, the intense interplay between words and music in Boris Godunov allows it to be successfully adapted for a concert production. All parts of the ensemble seem to effortlessly transform into a new environment with Antonio Pappano providing a strong leadership to all the various component parts.

With much of the visual aspect of the opera not available, the interplay between music and words become all the more obvious. The Chorus also take on a more visual part in the drama providing a variety of roles that add to the opera’s epic themes. However, one remarkable aspect of the concert production is the closeness of the audience, the prommers especially are almost part of the action and Bryn Terfel seemed to enjoy this closeness and used it to add drama to his role. The enthusiastic audience reaction at the end of the Prom suggested that they had seen something special and it is an evening that illustrated why the Proms are considered one of the greatest music festivals. Some of the best musicians and orchestras in the world with an incredible diversity of music provide wonderful entertainment with tickets at reasonable levels.

Even though the seats for many of the Proms have sold out, it is still possible to attend if you don’t mind standing in the arena or the gallery. With a large number of tickets available for every Prom at the price of £6, it is one of the bargains of the summer.

For more information and book tickets, visit the Royal Albert Hall website here

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