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Post-Brechtian distance

10/14/2005 -  and 16, 20*, 22, 30 October, 5, 12 November 2005
Modest Musorgsky: Khovanschina
Gregory Frank (Iwan Chowanski), Stuart Skelton/Göran Eliasson (Andrej Chowanski), Erik Jonsson (Golizyn Lars), Simon Bailey (Schaklowiti), Askar Abdrazakow (Dosifei), Elena Cassian (Marfa), Hans-Jürgen Lazar (Schreiber), Barbara Zechmeister (Emma)
Frankfurt Opera Orchester, Roland Böer (conductor)
Christian Pade (director)

According to Musorgsky’s peculiar musical language plenty of modal harmonies or strange chords and to the austerity of its plot, Khovanschina – his last masterwork – is less performed than Boris Godunov or Borodin’s Prince Igor. Russian’s opera lovers are now delighted by the recent production of Khovanschina, presented on the Frankfurt stage in a mixed musicological version, including the highly severe final scene arranged – in 1913 – by Stravinsky. After Kirill Petrenko, for the première evening, the young Kapellmeister Roland Boër conducts this gloomy and epic score in Shostakovitch’s orchestration of 1960. Despite using a piano, a tuba, a harp and a celesta to enrich Musorgsky’s original palette, this choice is more idiomatic than the devout adaptation written by Rimsky Korsakov in 1886.

This fine choice is transcended by the precise direction of Christian Pade whom partial transposition in today’s Russia with its corruption, scarcity, epidemics or drug addiction among the teenagers and criminality – as his orthodox fundamentalists – forms an accurate mirror of the terrible epoch of tsar Peter 1st, knowned as “ disturbances period ” by history scholars. In this strange frame, made of ruins of Marxist-Leninist architecture, of strong mysticism and of Shakespearian intrigues for power and wealth, the designer Alexander Lintl has produced a frosty set, obviously breaking the solemn, pompous and conservative Bolshoi’s tradition flourishing in the Soviet era. The choice of a post-Brechtian distance helps efficiently the audience to concentrate himself on a somewhat puritanical music and to enjoy more the quotations or pastiche of Russian and oriental folk tunes or songs.

Inspide of that Christian Pade seems to belong to a theatrical trend initiated by the late East German director Ruth Berghaus, he still needs to become more experimented in the uneasy art of moving crowds on stage. The folk isn’t the main character by Musorgsky? Pade misses himself Walter Felsenstein’s virtuosity to emphasize riots in front of Moscow’s Kremlin or during the last tableau of this popular drama à la Tolstoi. But Pade is incontestably more radical than Andrei Serban at the Opéra Bastille in 2002. His imagination for the first scene of the fourth act with a decaying corps de ballet is discerning. On the other hand, he has not the plastic imagination showed by Pier Luigi Pizzi at the TMP-Châtelet in his impressive production of the eighties, including a … muddy ground: Russia at spring, after thawing of snow. The autodafé of Marfa, Emma, Dosifei and Andrei Khovantschi could be more grandiose, despite that his characters direction doesn’t show any discrepancy with the conductor’s options and the Gesamtdramaturgie.

Congratulations to the Frankfurt Opera for having made possible this production to be sung in a pure Russian language, with a young, engaged and sober cast. The listeners forget the singer’s various origins – Australian, American, Swedish, Moldavian, Belgian or Ukrainian – because of their homogeneity. We especially appreciated Marfa (Elena Cassian) in her oracle’s scene, Emma (Barbara Zechmeister), Dosifei (Askar Abdrazakov), Ivan Khovantschi (Gregory Frank), Andrei Khovantschi (Stuart Skelton) and Prince Golizyn (Lars Erik Jonsson) as representatives of a non-expressionist style of singing. The times of the former Leningrad or Sofia performances of Musorgsky or Glinka and the so-called USSR visual aesthetic are really over …

Philippe Olivier



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