Before La Scala with the Russian ‘Boris Godunov’, ‘it is art, not propaganda’

Kasper Holten’s show features Abdrazakov as the protagonist. Chailly: ‘space for other voices that are part of Theater history’

The conscience opposed to power and the force of truth against censorship. But also individual guilt and its inevitable consequences. This is the message of the reinterpretation of ‘Boris Godunov’, the nineteenth-century masterpiece by the Russian composer Modest Musorgski, in the new staging for the Prima della Scala, which will inaugurate the 2022/2023 season of the Milanese theatre.

Directed by maestro Riccardo Chailly, directed by Kasper Holten, the sets designed by Es Devlin, and the Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the role of the protagonist, the Tsar of all the Russias, the drama set between 1598 and 1605 is a title recurring of the Scala seasons, since the Italian premiere of 1909 commissioned by Arturo Toscanini (but directed by Edoardo Vitale), and on 7 December next he will be back on stage with the original version of 1869, the so-called ‘Ur-Boris’, which dismayed his contemporaries for the innovative and realistic traits both from a dramaturgical and musical point of view.

“Three years ago we were sitting with Chailly and thought it was time to get out of the ordinary a bit…we asked ourselves what we could do and talked back to ‘Boris Godunov’ which has a long history at La Scala. I love this show , it is among my most loved and it is one of my best, if I think that there are still two weeks left. I wish it were already the Premiere”, said the superintendent of the Teatro alla Scala, Dominique Meyer, meeting the press today. In addition to Ildar Abdrazakov in his sixth ‘Prima’ at the Piermarini, the main roles are also performed by Ain Anger as Pimen, Stanislav Tromov as Varlaam, Dmitry Golovnin as Grigorij and Norbert Ernst as Šujskij, while Lilly Jørstad is Fëdor. The Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala is directed by maestro Alberto Malazzi by director Kasper Holten and his creative team.

“We had a wonderful rehearsal period – Meyer underlined – I enjoyed every second because I see an exceptional group of artists and a director who did a wonderful job. We have wonderful singers, all right and then an extraordinary orchestra and technicians , beautiful lights. I would just like it to be seen for what it is, a great masterpiece in the history of opera, created with the desire to do well and which perhaps will launch a more universal message”.

Superintendent Meyer then spent words of applause for the protagonist of the show, the Russian bass, Ildar Abdrazakov: “He is an extraordinary performer, one of the greatest performers in the history of this opera”, he assured, underlining how the gloomy story and current echoes the theme of Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ with which the Teatro alla Scala opened last season. No space, therefore, for the controversies during the press conference, on the decision to inaugurate the Verona season with a Russian opera, in a delicate moment, with the war in Ukraine that still shows no signs of being resolved, moreover with a decisive three-year program does.

“With ‘Boris Godunov’ we are not making propaganda for Russian President Vladimir Putin – Meyer assured for the umpteenth time – there is a difference between the current political situation in Russia and a great masterpiece in the history of art. There is nothing in this presentation that goes against Ukraine. We made a reasonable decision: you have to read the libretto of the opera, it does not make an apology for the regime but rather the opposite”.

At the root of Meyer’s reflection is precisely the origin of the libretto, the drama by Aleksandr Pushkin, composed in 1825 and published in 1831 and the fact that for his ninth season opening Chailly has chosen to direct Boris Godunov in the first version in seven scenes presented by Musorgsky at the Imperial Theaters of St. Petersburg in 1869. “During the first seasons of my musical direction – observes maestro Chailly – I felt it necessary to focus exclusively on the Italian repertoire, with courses dedicated to Giacomo Puccini, the Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Youth Trilogy’ and the operas that had their world premiere at La Scala”.

Today, however, “the time has come to give space to other voices that are fully part of the history of La Scala – remarked Meyer -. This Boris Godunov is for me the essential arrival point of a path in the music of Musorgsky. An absolute masterpiece, too much a masterpiece to be accepted by the commission of the St. Petersburg theater and which today is presented with a formidable cast”.

The protagonist, Ildar Abdrazakov, is also satisfied: “Finally a character who is Russian – he says satisfied -. For me it is a very important role, it is not a singing role but one of soul and fire. If I had to make a comparison, there is Verdi first the singing then the words with Boris it’s the opposite. The whole cast is wonderful and for me it’s always a great honor and a pleasure to be here. I’m the happiest singer in the world because I’m at La Scala for the season opening”.

(by Federica Mochi)