A complement I say, as this not being complete it cannot be your sole Boris in a collection; necessary I add, because it preserved a sizable portion of the part, as portrayed by one of its foremost exponents ever, the great russian bass Alexander Pirogov. This incompleteness is only implied but not clearly stated in the disc's box, which should advise would-be purchasers. So what you get is some kind of "extended highlights" of this, arguably the greatest of russian operas and certainly the most popular. It is a film by Vera Stroieva, made in 1954 as part of a project dear to soviet authorities of putting into film both the lives of Russia's greatest artists and adaptations of their works, to "educate the masses" and of course not being entirely without some ideological hints (or rather more than mere hints). Stroieva made effective use of exterior shots, as well as mixes of "theatrical stage" sequences with other ones filmed inside the Kremlin, which gave the film an intriguing aura and allowed us to look at Boris Godunov from an unusual perspective; the soundtrack was dubbed and lip sinchronised of course, but remarkably well, with results far better than those in contemporary efforts by RAI to film standard italian operas. From the film perspective, it followed the traditions of soviet film making, with stunning images, stark closeups and vast shots of hundreds of extras in the opera scenes involving the people; the soudtrack had to be made on purpose for the project, as the myriad cuts in the score ruled out cutting and splicing existing recordings. Stroieva also made a startling use of the Kromy revolt scene: she cut it rather abruptly at the point when the jesuits from the Pretender's army enter and swiftly switched to the Kremlin quarters where the Duma has met, to proceed with Boris's entrace and death scene; after Boris's death she goes back to Kromy but not in a straight "continuation" of what she had left but to a panorama of violence and destruction by war. Then, after the speech by the Pretender the retinue proceeds its victorious march towards Moscow to the rather perplexed and disillusioned expressions of the onlookers faces, the Simpleton utters his final comments that were Mussorgski's original ending for the opera (and Stroieva's film). The film as a whole certainly makes for stirring viewing and has been very well preserved and restored, with colours that have not faded nor acquired that curious tint so typical of decades-old pictures; VAI's dvd adaptation is very good.
Pirogov was 55 at the time and had been the leading exponent of the role at the Bolshoi theatre for two decades. He had recorded the work complete a few years before, shortly after the war, in a 78RPM set conducted by Nikolai Golovanov that older american collectors may recall from its 3-LP incarnation in a long-defunct label called "Period" and which has been reissued in CD format; I encourage readers to look it up. That I know of, no previous recordings exist that preserve Pirogov's interpretation for us in a fresher voice, as by 1948 and 1954, years of the 78RPM recording and of the film by Stroieva's soundtrack respectively, he was past his prime. For those of us who during the 1950's and early 1960's learnt to love the work from that "Period" album (which at the time had a special "Bolshoi russian ur-text" aura as it competed only with the 1951 EMI recording with Christoff, which had been recorded in Paris with a combination of singers from several countries, a french orchestra and a chorus comprised of russian emigrés), the film will represent further appeal as it shared many with that album's cast. Stroieva adapted her effort from the Bolshoi's usual mixture of Rimsky Korsakov's editions and her project also served to visually preserve Ivan Kozlovsky's legendary portrayal of The Simpleton and a sizable portion of Giorgi Nelepp's of The Pretender, both present in the 1948 recording.