[Music Review] 'Boris Godunov' re-imagines Russian dark period
Posted : 2017-04-21 16:54
Updated : 2017-04-21 16:56
A scene from opera "Boris Godunov" / Courtesy of KNO
By Yun Suh-young
At first glance, "Boris Godunov" does not look like an attractive opera. Not from the name, not from the plot.
As heavy as it sounds, the Russian opera that was staged for the first time in Seoul, from Thursday through Sunday by the Korea National Opera (KNO), is indeed a recount of a dark period of Russian history, the "Time of Troubles" following the reign of the notorious Tsar Ivan IV "The Terrible." The KNO staged the version composed by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) based on the drama written by Russian poet and playwright, Aleksandr Pushkin.
The opera begins with Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar (1598-1605) replacing Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich, the son of the late Tsar Ivan IV, after Dmitry mysteriously. Godunov is suspected to be behind the prince's death, but with the support of the aristocrats, he is nevertheless crowned. That's when the nightmare begins. A monk named Grigory Otrepyev, who claims he is the "risen" Dmitry, gathers an army from Poland and marches toward Moscow to topple Godunov from the throne. The opera ends with Godunov falling to his death, after being haunted by spirits as Dmitry reaches near.
Despite the depressing storyline, the stage setting is flamboyant. The production did an excellent job of reenacting the costumes of the period, with a modern twist. The glittering attire of the royal family and the aristocrats are impressively adorned. The mise-en-scene is also beautiful and efficiently used. The production used the space cleverly with moving floors both up and down, front and back and in circles. The walls, decorated with golden letters in Cyrillic and classical Latin, move up and down to produce depth in the ceiling as well as symbolizing the clash between the two cultures, while the elevated floor creates two stages to simultaneously watch as action occurs on both top and bottom floors. It is a rare view for the audience to watch an opera stage move so frequently.
The use of lighting is dramatic as well the contrasts in black and white and the white walls transforming into red and blue spaces in Act Three, reflecting the characters' emotional development. As Italian stage director Stefano Poda had previously announced, he successfully created a "magical realm," one far away and not necessarily depicting reality.
It seemed as if these elaborate settings were to compromise the dragging plot, trying best to keep the audience from losing attention. The whole plot would have made a much greater impact if it were condensed and simplified, if possible under the production's discretion. Every action and scene seemed too long. The beginning and end were intriguing, while the two acts in the middle were tiresome considering the language the opera was performed in.
The opera is unique in the way many of dance sequences are presented. At times, though, it was difficult to grasp how the dances fit into the flow.
The opera is worth watching for the visual satisfaction it provides. It is also quite meaningful that a Russian production has hit the local stage for the first time in 15 years.