Friday, February 22, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich!


The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, part of Novodevichy Convent, near Moscow, where Boris Godunov, who had been the power behind the throne of his brother-in-law the newly departed Tsar Feodor, retreated in 1584, waiting to be implored to accept the throne. The rise of the curtain is preceded by this deeply forlorn orchestral introduction:

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: Prelude (ed. Rimsky-Korsakov)

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970

by Ken

No, Sunday Classics isn't back from hiatus exactly. It's more like a hiatus from hiatus. I've been pondering how to proceed with our archival remembrance of that fine conductor Eugen Jochum, and one of the things I had a hankering to represent was his 1957 Munich broadcast performance of Mussorgsky's own version of Boris Godunov, then little heard, with Hans Hotter in the title role. That doesn't qualify as Sunday Classics archival material, though, since we haven't heard any of it yet. What's more, as the post started to take shape, it drifted away from Jochum to focus on the two scenes of the Prologue.


A crowd has been gathered with orders to sing Boris's praises -- with forceful police "encouragement" as necessary. Eventually Shchelkalov, the secretary of the Duma, comes out to announce to the crowd that -- well, we'll hear. What fascinates me is the extraordinary, deep-rooted beauty of Shchelkalov's oration.

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: Prologue, Scene 1, Shchelkalov's address
SHCHELKALOV: True Believers! The boyar is implacable.
When the boyars' Duma and the Patriarch
made their sad appeal, he would not even listen
to anything about the Tsar's throne.
A great sorrow has befallen Russia,
a desperate sorrow,
True Believers!
Our land groans with the evil of lawlessness.
Bow down to the Almighty
that He may send some consolation
to sorrowing Russia . . .
that he may brighten Boris's weary soul
with the light of heaven.
[He goes back into the monastery.]

[in English] Calvin Marsh (b), Shchelkalov; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. Live performance, Mar. 21, 1959

[ed. Rimsky-Korsakov] Sabin Markov (b), Shchelkalov; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970


We''ll be listening to the whole of the first scene Sunday. Suffice it to say that by the time the curtain rises on the second scene of the Prologue, the unrelenting Boris is being crowned tsar. Again, we'll be hearing the whole of the Coronation Scene on Sunday. Here is just Boris's cheery "inaugural address."

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: Prologue, Scene 2 (Coronation Scene), Boris's address
BORIS [from the porch of the Cathedral of the Assumption]:
My soul is sad.
Some sort of involuntary fear
has gripped my heart
with a sense of evil foreboding.
O Righteous One! O sovereign Father of mine!
Look down from heaven on the tears of your faithful servants,
and send me a blessing for my rule.
Let me be good and righteous as you are;
may I rule my people in glory.
Now let us pay our respects
to the past rulers of Russia now deceased.
[Pause -- then grandly] And now I invite the people to a feast,
all, from boyar to blind beggar.
Entrance is free to all.
Welcome, dear guests!
[He goes toward the Cathedral of the Archangel.]
THE PEOPLE: Glory! Glory! Glory!
Long live and prosper, our father the Tsar!

[in English] George London (b), Boris Godunov; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. Live performance, Mar. 10, 1956

[ed. Rimsky-Korsakov] Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), Boris Godunov; Sofia Radio Chorus, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970


As noted, we focus on the two scenes of the Prologue of Boris Godunov.

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