Friday, May 25, 2018

MTT to Return to SFS Podium with Russian Opera

Preliminary rendering of how the scenic design for Boris Godunov by Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock will fit into Davies Symphony Hall (created by Mac Moc Design, courtesy of SFS)

Those attending the first performance of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung (the ring of the Nibelung), presented next month by the San Francisco Opera at the War Memorial Opera House, particularly those planing a special visit to San Francisco for the occasion, will have the opportunity to make the occasion one of even greater operatic excess. During the “free day” between Die Walküre (the Valkyrie) on June 13 and Siegfried on June 15, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) will give the first of three performances of a semi-staged production of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov in Davies Symphony Hall, on the other side of Grove Street. Following over a month of visiting conductors, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) will return to Davies to conduct. James Darrah will lead the production team, whose other key members will include Lighting Designer Pablo Santiago and Projection Designer Adam Larsen with both scenic and costume designs by Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock.

Many of the key roles will be sung by visiting Eastern European vocalists, beginning with the title role to be sung by bass Stanislav Trofimov. Other visiting artists of note will be tenor Sergei Skorokhodov (Grigory), tenor Yevgeny Akimov (Prince Shuisky), bass Vyacheslav Pochapsky (Varlaam), bass Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev (Pimen), baritone Aleksey Bogdanov (Andrei Shchelkalov), and tenor Stanislav Mostovoy (Holy Fool). More familiar names will be those of mezzo Catherine Cook (the innkeeper), Philip Skinner (Nikitich), tenor Elliott Encarnación (a boyar in attendance), and bass Chung-Wai Soong (Mityukha). Ragnar Bohlin will prepare the extensive choral work, which will be sung by both the SFS Chorus and the Pacific Boychoir (Andrew Brown, Director).

Both the composition of the score and the production of the opera have complicated histories. Mussorgsky began working on the opera in October of 1868 by preparing his own libretto based on the drama of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, written predominantly in blank verse. Pushkin’s play consisted of 25 scenes, which Mussorgsky stripped down to seven, grouped into four parts. This version was completed in 1869 but was then revised in 1872. That revised version consisted of a two-scene prologue followed by four acts with two, one, two, and two scenes, respectively, making for a total of nine scenes.

The music itself endured what might best be called a checkered history. In 1896 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov prepared a performing edition of the score with the goal of correcting what he took to be errors in Mussorgsky’s manuscripts. (Fun fact: When this version was first performed, the role of Varlaam was taken by Fyodor Stravinsky, known these days, if at all, as Igor’s father.) Rimsky-Korsakov subsequently revised his version in 1908; and it was this version through which the opera received tis first performance outside Russia, at the Paris Opera. Mussorgsky’s 1869 version would not be heard outside Russia until a performance in London at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1935. These days Rimsky-Korsakov’s good intentions no longer have very much currency, and the version most likely to be performed in Mussorgsky’s own 1872 revision. No specific information has yet been released as to whether or not this will be the version performed. However, probably for reasons of time, only seven of its nine scenes will be performed, dispensing with the third act, both scenes of which take place in Poland.

This concert will be given only three performances, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, and Friday, June 15, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 17. There will be an Inside Music talk given by Alexandra D. Amati that will begin half an hour before the performance. Doors to the Davies lobbies open fifteen minutes prior to the lecture. Ticket prices range from $35 to $159. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Davies Box Office, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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