For dramatic flair and fine singing, this reissued 'Boris Godunov' from 1976 ranks with the best. For the past decade the limelight has been on Gergiev's Kirov production (on CD and DVD), but Jerzy Semkow sounds more natural and emotionally warm -- not a single scene, including the opening Coronation Scene, sounds stiff or ritualized. The largely Polish cast knows this score well and sings with total commitment. I doubt that anyone who loves 'Boris' could get past the first ten minutes wihtut being rivets.
The two international stars in the production are Martti Talvela and Nicolai Gedda, as the doomed Tsar and Grigory, the false Dmitri who leads the uprising. Both could hardly be bettered -- Gedda is extremely stylish vocally (not many Slavic tenors are), and Talvela, as always, sounds like he's twelve feet tall. He overpowers the role without chewing up the scenery a la Boris Christoff or turning the Tsar into a howling monster. The supporting singers, none of them known outside Poland, I imagine, match the two stars in intensity and honest emotion. Nobody is a puppet in a historic melodrama. The Polish orchestra and chorus, especially the latter, are frankly the best I've ever heard in Mussorgsky's original 1872 version (with a few additions form the earlier 1869). No shouting allowed -- everyone here eally sings.
For brilliant casting and the most natural style to be heard in any 'Boris,' I would back this dark horse over its celebrated rivals, including Abbado, Gergiev, and (in the Rimsky edition) Karajan.
Here's the cast list:
Martti Talvela (Boris); Nicolai Gedda (Grigory/Dimitri); Leonard Mróz (Pimen); Bo¿ena Kinasz (Marina); Andrzej Hiolski (Rangoni/Shchelkalov); Aage Haugland (Varlaam); Kazimierz Pustelak (Missail); Paulos Raptis (The Simpleton); Bohdan Paprocki (Shuisky); Bo¿ena Brun-Barañska (Nurse); Wiera Baniewicz (Fyodor); Halina Łukomska (Xenia);