Well, you might have guessed it correctly – another Russian masterpiece on the programme! Last year featured Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov – this year it was Khovanshchina’s turn to shine on stage.This rather momentus opera of five acts lasts around 190 minutes. Mussorgsky left this piece uncomplete with Rimsky-Korsakoff trying to complete it but the version that was on stage was orchestrated by Shostakovich. The story is rather complex and a good knowledge of Russian history would be benefitial but it still is possible to follow it reasonably early. In a semi staged version it is rather tricky to follow the story line without being completely stuck to the programme. After a while it was a little easier to follow who was which character – but a fully stage version would certainly make life the easiest. Big plus though were the surtitles that were readily available even though a little tricky to read from my seat. After having seen Boris Godunov last year I sort og knew how much of a force Mussorgsky can be in opera writing! Sweeping lyrical melodies paired with fiery Russian drama. I won’t go too much into detail of individual performances and the piece itself – the Welsh National Opera will be doing a fully stage version later on this year – I will certainly be in the audience for one of their performances…

The BBC Symphony Orchestra was out in full force and Semyon Bychkov was a fantastic conductor. I had heard his name before but not really seen him. Of course the opera is rather personal for him as he was born in the UDSSR which I strongly believe left him in a great position to bring the opera even more to life. There was a precisicion in his conducting but also a depth into this deeply controversial reflection of Russian history. An international cast of singers was a joy to listen to. Especially some of the male solists were a revelation – singing with such intensity and deep colours in their voices. Though – one of the downsides of a choir seat in this kind of performance is that it can be rather challenging to hear and understand the singing – always handy to transport yourself back to the hall with the help of BBC Radio 3. One soloist which really stood out for me was Jennifer Rhys-Davies, having the role of Susanna, one of the Old Believers and a quite crazy one at that! She was absolutely spectacular!

A total of 4 choirs on stage were all so expressive and committed – a real delight! And of course helped to really fill the stage! Rather magnificent percussion section and 4 harps combined with all those voices brought the opera very much to life and left me curious to see and listen to it again!


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