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Russian intrigue: 'Khovanschina' returns to Metropolitan Opera for 1st time since 1999
NEW YORK (AP) ' Sometimes a singer and a role are just made for each other.
Olga Borodina's performance as Marfa, the jilted Old Believer prophetess in Mussorgsky's "Khovanschina," is a perfect match of voice and temperament. Her dusky mezzo sound combines with her brooding, angry manner and native Russian diction to create a riveting portrayal of the woman at the center of the four-hour-plus evening.
August Everding's 1985 production was revived by the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, its first appearance in 13 years. And for the first time, the Met used Stravinsky's 1913 orchestration of the final scene of the score left unfinished by the composer, rather than the versions by Rimsky-Korsakov or Shostakovich.
A dark portrayal of Russian political infighting during the time of Peter the Great in the late 17th century, the opera is filled with intrigue, assassination and betrayal, culminating in mass suicide.
From Marfa's forecast of doom early in the evening to her endorsement of immolation for the persecuted, conservative religious minority in the final scene, Borodina's tenacity and commitment were overwhelming.
Dosifei, the aged spiritual leader of the Old Believers, happened to be her real-life husband, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov. His smooth, booming voice became a moral center, caught between unappealing characters such as Princes Ivan and Andrei Khovansky, and the plotting boyar Shaklovity.
Anatoly Kotscherga, a tall Ukrainian bass, made his Met debut as Prince Ivan, leader of militiamen known as the Strelsky. His voice pushed to the limit at times, he gave a ferocious portrayal of a rather nasty leader who likes to blame others for his own predicaments. Georgian baritone George Gagnidze was a growling Shaklovity, another deep voice creating a murky atmosphere.
Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine was the slimy Prince Golitsyn, displaying a bright tone and his character's dim mind. Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk, also making his Met debut, sounded a size too small as Prince Andrei. He breaks his engagement with Marfa and pursues the German girl Emma, sung with sweetness by Wendy Bryn Harmer. John Easterlin added energy as the Public Scribe.
Kirill Petrenko conducted the Met orchestra with emphasis on big sweep, perhaps to the detriment of energy at times. The chorus conveyed the at times angry, at times antsy crowd with fervor.
Everding's production, with mostly black, white and red sets by Ming Cho Lee, makes effective use of the big Met stage in the crowd scenes. Stravinsky's conclusion has a moving choral chant as the Old Believers go up in flames.
There are five more performances through March 17, with the finale broadcast on radio.