Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Rise and Fall
November 22, 2011
Please tell me that if you’ve been able to get to the Lyric Opera Chicago’s production of Boris Godunov you’ve done so. It’s a smashing one. While in Chicago over the weekend, I also got a chance to see Sir Andrew Davis lead this rich and well embellished performance with the best non-native Russian speaking cast I’ve yet heard in this opera. Of course, casting in Chicago is some of the most impeccable in the whole country and all of the principals prove as engaging as actors as they are vocalists. The title role goes to Ferruccio Furlanetto who does kings who are losing their grip like nobody else. If you’ve seen his Philip II you know what I mean. His is not a very Russian sound, of course, but the smoothness and power of his voice make up for it. He made Boris’ death one of the most engrossing I remember.
Then there’s Stefan Margita as Shuisky. I am more and more in thrall of this performer with each viewing. His performances of Loge in San Francisco were unforgettable and he should be the perfect addition to the Metropolitan Opera’s Das Rheingold cast next spring. Given how well he handled one of the most duplicitous characters in opera, it’s no surprise that his scheming, turn-coated Shuisky should radiate so much heat. Of course, this is a production, originally for San Francisco Opera under the direction of Stein Winge, that is mostly interested in the political machinations contained within the story. Thus Shuisky rises in his importance as a mastermind behind Boris’ eventual downfall. An added twist in the final stage image puts the point on this that might look somewhat overworked in lesser hands. But Margita’s ability to portray an icy manipulator with a Cheshire smile makes it work exceedingly well. (I don’t remember this gesture from the most recent revival of Winge’s production in San Francisco and the director of Chicago’s revival, Julia Pevzner, may have reinserted or re-emphasized it.)
There are many other fine performances here. The always enjoyable and big voiced Andrea Silvestrelli sang a Pimen that was as pious as Shuisky was evil. Raymond Aceto was notable as Varlaam and Erik Nelson Werner made much out of his two scenes as the pretender Grigori. Another familiar voice I was glad to hear was David Cangelosi’s as the comical Missail.
All this excellent casting does make a big difference. Winge’s production can be a bit dry at times. In an opera about pageantry with big chorus numbers, the sparse raked wooden stage that curves up into the flyspace upstage can be wanting visually. But it is also unobtrusive in the way it provides for good vocal projection and easy entrances and exits for the large chorus. There are several openings in the set's curved wall upstage and panels with Russian church iconography appear during key scenes. Still the performances here are so strong that the set and surrounding seem to vanish from focus. The interaction between these characters is the real joy of this performance. Lyric Opera has managed to put together a show that is much more than the sum of its parts with a sharp eye to casting and a strong hand in the pit. There are three more performances in the coming week.