Spectacular Performance of Khovanshchina in Paris

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mussorgsky, Khovanshchina: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Opéra National de Paris, Michail Jurowski (conductor), Opéra Bastille, Paris, 9.2.2013 (SRT)


Prince Ivan Khovansky – Gleb Nikolsky
Prince Andrei Khovansky – Vladimir Galouzine
Prince Golitsyn – Vsevolod Grivnov
Shaklovity – Sergey Murzaev
Dosifei – Orlin Anastassov
Marfa – Larissa Diadkova
Susanna – Marina Lapina
Emma – Nataliya Tymchenko
Clerk – Vadim Zaplechny


Andrei Serban (director)

 Khovanshchina, Act 1,(c) Opera National de Paris

 Khovanshchina, Act 1,(c) Opera National de Paris

I took myself to Paris for a few days in February and spent a few days exploring the musical scene there. It’s incredibly rich, even by the standards of most western capitals. From the two Opéra houses to the Salle Pleyel, the Cité de la Musique and umpteen calling points in between, there’s an enormous amount going on. My first stop was the last performance in the run of Khovanshchina at the Opera Bastille. I’ve always liked the Bastille. Some singers compare it to shouting in a barn, but the sightlines and the acoustics are, to me at least, absolutely spot-on, and it helps that it also has late 20th century standards of comfort for the audience.

As you can see from the cast list, the Opéra went out of their way to create a Russian spectacular for this most Russian of operas, which was given mainly in Shostakovich’s completion. Gleb Nikolsky radiated dramatic and vocal authority in the title role, and he wasn’t above using colloquial slurs to underline the (admittedly few) touches of humour with which Mussorgsky enlivens the character of the Streltsy chief. As his son, Vladimir Galouzine’s turbo-charged baritenor was hair-raising, creating a thrillingly dramatic sound for all of his scenes, though he is surely a little wasted in a role like this that is given so little singing time. Orlin Anastassov sang very impressively as Dosifei, the repository of spiritual and moral authority in the opera. He is rather young of face and of voice to really convince as the grizzled monk, but he approached the music with a bel canto ear for line and beauty that was very attractive, if not necessarily authentic. Sergey Murzaev invested the Boyar Shaklovity with real power and urgency, his Act 3 aria becoming one of the highlights of the evening. In this opera of many basses, he was the finest. Vsevolod Grivnov trod the fine line between the pathetic and the heroic in his portrayal of Golitsyn, reminding us that this is a character whose greatness is now behind him.

Among the women, Marina Lapina was appropriately histrionic as Susanna, and Nataliya Tymchenko’s Emman was sympathetic, but all had to give way before the supremely authoritative Larissa Diadkova as Marfa. She is perhaps a little too long in the tooth to be convincing as the ardent lover, but she brought astounding vocal intensity to the character, carrying all before her in each of her scenes. The fortune telling scene, in particular, with the combination of her voice and the eerie orchestration, made the scalp prickle. She is a truly astounding practitioner of Russian opera, and it was wonderful to hear her in territory which she has made her own.

The orchestra and chorus sounded very convincingly Russian, no doubt due to the contribution of Jurowski’s conducting. Andrei Serban’s broadly tradition production relied on handsome costumes, lush interiors and forbiddingly bare outdoor scenes. His use of colour, particularly reds and blacks, worked very well, though he shouldn’t have felt the need to accompany nearly all of the monologues and duets with dumb shows from members of the chorus. Why couldn’t he just trust the drama? Otherwise, though, it was a very impressive evening.

Simon Thompson