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A must-see: the 2022-2023 season opening at the La Scala in Milan - LIVE TRANSMISSION
"We don't support the Russian government (…) We are friends of Ukraine, and we've proved it (…) Dictators don't end up well in this piece, they are cut out of the picture (…)." This was the answer given by Dominique Meyer, the General Director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, to all those who criticized the decision that the new season should open with Boris Godunov, Modest Mussorgsky's opera. A Russian opera!!
Actually, Boris Godunov is a masterpiece of the universal opera repertoire and… "a tragic story of the true calamity that fell upon Moscow due to the actions of Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrepiev in 1598," says Mussorgsky in his autobiography, in which he discusses those times in the history of the Russian people. This happened in the time between the death of Tsar Ivan the Terrible and the election of Michael Romanov, haunted by a multitude of tragic events, during which many human lives were sacrificed. This is a piece which testifies about the guilt and the loneliness that power brings… I hope that none of you reject it due to the politics of aggression that the actual Russian president applies, a president whose rule is temporary, while the values of the great Russian culture are, and will remain eternal…
Boris Godunov - premieres and Scaliger verses
The Boris Godunov opera was sung for the first time at Teatro alla Scala in 1909, featuring Feodor Chaliapin in lead role, under the musical direction of Eduardo Vitale. Ever since, it has been frequently played at Scaliger seasons thanks mainly to Arturo Toscanini, who conducted it for four consecutive seasons (1922-1926), but also thanks to the conductors who came after him: Antonio Guarnieri, Antonio Votto and Gianandrea Gavazzeni, all of these conducting it with great fidelity.
This has been the second non italiana opera in the history of La Scala - following Beethoven's Fidelio (1974) - scheduled to open a new season. The event took place on December 7th, 1979, and was a true success for Mussorgsky due to Claudio Abbado's magic and the inspiring staging of the Russian Director, Yuri Lyubimov. Riccardo Chailly was Abbado's assistant at that time. He had just made his first appearance with the famous Scaliger orchestra, slowing, yet successfully replacing Gavazzeni.
As such, the new conductor of Boris, Riccardo Chailly had the amazing opportunity to decipher Mussorgsky's score, following Abbado's genius advice during his childhood and all the artistic arguments of an exceptional show. Same as Abbado, in 1979 Chailly chose to open the 2022-2023 season with the first version of Boris Godunov, which was finished in December 1869 by the composer, and which musicians prefer in spite of all the downsides in terms of dramaturgy. Why has this first version always fascinated others? Look at what Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the first conductor from 1896, wrote: "I love and also hate Boris. I love it for its uniqueness, its power, boldness, for the preeminence and the beauty of the music, and I hate it for its unfinished touches, for the harshness of the harmonies, and here in there for the complete ridiculous nuances of the music…"
Therefore, now it's Riccardo Chailly's turn to measure against Mussogsky's masterpiece. If, in 1979, Abbado chose Nicolai Ghiaurov in the lead role, Ricardo Chailly chose Ildar Abdrazakov in 2022 (46 years old): Ildar Abdrazakov became after two decades since its Scaliger appearance the most appreciated Russian singer in Italy, more appreciated than Anna Netrebko! Internationally speaking, he's definitely the most important bass singer of the day.
Translated by Denisa Stanciu,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year I
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu