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This is a wonderful video of Mussorgsky's masterpiece, Boris Godunov. The Kremlin scenes were actually recorded in the Kremlin and the whole opera is simply masterful. I must purchase if you love the opera.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A necessary complement.Jan. 28 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A Once in a Lifetime OpportunityJuly 19 2006
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Russian opera should not be compared to Italian or even German opera. It is in a class by itself, written for Slavic voices and requiring a perfect command of both the Russian language and the stage. Stanislavsky himself claimed that the greatest actors he'd ever seen were Russian opera singers.
This brilliant filmed version of Boris is one of the first cinematic operas, perhaps inspired by Powell and Pressburger's magnificent Tales of Hoffmann of a few years earlier. The director, Vera Stroyeva, also made a film of Khovanshchina, which is unfortunately out of print and impossible to locate.
In this excellent film we have the opportunity to see as well as hear Alexander Pirogov - a Boris for the ages - perhaps the greatest after Chaliapin. His famous monologue is gripping, perfectly capturing the tortured Tsar as he unravels into dark and irreversible madness.
This film is an abridged version of the complete opera - but what does it matter? The performance will come as a revelation to anyone familiar with this work. The dramatic impact of this incomparable cast is unforgettable. Pirogov's tortured Boris, Georgi Nelepp's clarion Pretender, Ivan Kozlovsky's eerily transcendental Simpleton, Maxim Mikhailov's authoritative Pimen, Nikandr Khanaev's chilling Shuyskiy have never been surpassed. What an opportunity to see these artists at work!
These majestic singers can also be heard on the finest Boris ever recorded: the 1948 Golovanov version, available on Opera d'Oro for a pittance, or in more detailed sound on Preiser.
The Soviets followed this wonderful filmic opera with others: a gorgeous Tsar's Bride, a Eugene Onegin dubbed with Vishnevskaya's Tatiana, a Prince Igor that captures Fokine's choreography in the splendid second act and Shostakovich's Katarina Izmailova with Vishnevskaya herself, in which one can witness her gifted acting.
There are other Boris Godunovs available on DVD. The first Nesterenko performance from the Bolshoi is also excellent, but it's a traditional staged opera, and while the singers are superb, they are not of the caliber of those in Stroyeva's film. The DVD of almost the same cast less than a decade later is pathetic - the singers have declined, their voices are shot and they overact to compensate for their lost talent. The Gergiev version with Robert Lloyd is a waste of time. It reveals how sadly Russian culture had deteriorated. They had to import a 3rd rate Boris and the rest of the cast is paltry compared to the performers of an earlier, irretrievable era.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Riveting cinematic experienceSept. 29 2005
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This is a great Russian film in the tradition of Eisenstein, full of striking character close-ups, expressive shadows, moving crowd scenes. The opera itself is severely cut (although all essentials remain) and is therefore sometimes a little hard to follow if you don't know the story in advance. Uneven picture quality, color and sound, but magnificent costumes, sets and visual effects--and great voices even if they are at times muffled or shrill. It is hard to imagine a more gripping treatment of this story and music. Stroyeva translates the opera into great cinema, far from a staid stage performance.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Marvelous Visual Impact! ... But ...April 28 2007
M. F TERRIS
- Published on Amazon.com
I have to agree with Stasov and others that no other DVD of Boris Godunov compares with Stroyeva's film in its startling visual impact. Here we get to see the real St. Basil's Cathedral; the arches and ikons of the Kremlin are intoxicating, and the appearance of the False Dimitri and his troops is breathtaking.
This imagry is the perfect complement to Moussorgky's opera, heigtening and deepening our appreciation of the characters, as well as of the time and place. Shuisky never appears so oily or Pimen so consientious or weary. All of this heightens tension inherent in Moussorgky's music. By contrast, the Nesterenko/Bolshoi DVD released on Empire/Universal, appears flabby, despite the excellence of its sets. And while in widescreen, that recording is fuzzy. The Kirov recording produced by Tarkovsky, generally does maintain visual impact, but Tarkovsky's antics (such as having everyone fall down, dead at the end) too often distract from the opera, rather than enhance it.
Furthermore, the Bolshoi orchestra, chorus, and soloists are generally superb in the Stroyeva film, and Nebolsin is an excellent conductor. Why then, do I only give the film 3 stars? First, the film cuts out half the opera: It's 108 minutes, compared to the Kirov's 221. Second, the sound quality is poor: This isn't merely mono; it's like listening to a 78rpm record, complete with occasional "cracks." Third, it chooses the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration with its taimed harmonies over Moussorgky's original. Rimisky's orchestration is touted for its shimmering beauty and clarity, but given the limited fidelity of this recording, there's no reward for the listener in this exchange. Finally, while Pirogov has an inky black base and fine expression, his sound sometimes wobbles. Lloyd, with Kirov, is far better.
Indeed, the Kirov recording is still the best I have seen: Gergiev is an incredible conductor of Moussorgsky, and the other soloists are at least as fine singers as in the Pirogov/Nebolisn/Bolshoi production (although they do not always look the part the way those in Stroyeva's film do). The Kirov's DTS sound is first rate, and it combines the music found his Moussorgky's first and final orchestrations. By all means, buy the Stroyeva release and enjoy her creativity, but if you truly love Moussorgsky, the Girgiev/Kirov recording is the one to which you will return most often.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A superb, if slashed, Boris.Dec 24 2009
R. C. Walker
- Published on Amazon.com
Modest Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" is the greatest opera ever written, if we don't count Wagner's Ring. Vera Stroyeva's 1954 film of Boris is a stunning account of this stunning work - or it would be if we could get all of it. Despite Amazon's editorial review's assertion that "this is the most complete Boris Godunov ever recorded on film", we're missing over 40% of the opera here. Boris runs about 3 hours. There are 2 versions of the Stroyeva film on DVD, each running about 1 hour, 49 minutes. You do the math.
This is basically the Rimsky-Korsakov botch job, in which Mussorgsky's story is run right off-track by shuffling events and scenes. That would be bad enough, but compensated for by brilliant performances. However, the botch is here followed by the axe. The end of the Prologue (part 1) is chopped off, losing the ending chorus. Act III is butchered terribly, to the point where the viewer might wonder: who's that guy in red robes lurking in the background? In Act V. half of Scene 2 (Mussorgsky's original Scene 3)seems to have disappeared. In Scene 3 (Mussorgsky's original Scene 2) the weakness of Rimsky's rewrite is usually made manifest by becoming the opera's end. In Mussorgsky's mind, Boris was only supporting actor, and the protagonist was (or were) the Russian people. This is why the opera is supposed to end, not with Boris's death, but with the scene in the Kromy forest and the Fool's lament. Amazingly, that is the way it ends after all. After Boris's death - the scene's last few moments are cut - the film goes back to the Kromy forest in what I guess we must call Scene 4. The False Dimitriy appears, the Simpleton bewails the fate of the Russian people, and the opera ends. The split of the Kromy forest scene is disorienting, a sort of compromise between Mussorgsky's intention and Rimsky's meddling, but at least we can more clearly understand the opera's meaning.
What saves this truncated performance is the magnificence of the remains. The orchestra plays with true Slavic verve (not well served by the spotty sound reproduction). The sets appear to be actual locations within Russia, within Moscow even, and the Kromy forest parts are filmed outdoors with a realistic burning city in "Scene 4" of Act V. The cameras take full advantage of the fact that the sets are real Russian buildings, with wonderful filming angles. The lighting is imaginative. The influence of Eisenstein hangs wonderfully and heavily over this production.
The cast is nothing short of miraculous. Aleksandr Pirogi's Boris is stunning: full of passion and humanity (and guilt). The man reduces the scenery to splinters.
The small but pivotal role of Prince Shuisky lives in N. Khanayev. Through much of Russian history, if there's plotting and villainy afoot, there's a Shuisky at the bottom of it. Ivan IV Grozniy fed a couple of them to his dogs, but that wasn't enough apparently. Khanayev fairly radiates nastiness - he steals scenes without even singing. His sly and malevolent glances provide a complete subtext to events. The man is fabulous.
Grigoriy Otropiev, the False Dmitriy (unless he actually was Prince Dmitriy), is played by G, Nellep. Nellep has a ringing Slavic tenor - a heldentenor mellowed by more than a soupcon of Alfredo Kraus. He might be regarded as a bit pudgy for the role, but his performance is so compelling that he quickly looks every inch the part.
A. Krivchanye shines as the venal and cunning Varlaam, a renegade priest who plays both roles superlatively. This is an opera crammed with baritone and bass voices, and Krivchanye is equal to the best of the others.
The Simpleton is portrayed by I. Koslovsky. He has only 2 bits, but they are (like Shuiski's) central to the story and our understanding of it. If you're puzzled by Boris's lack of anger at the Simpleton's spot-on accusations, simpletons or fools are "touched" - and expression we use, which means "touched by god". They were held sacred in Old Russia - just as Court fools in western Europe could go unpunished by saying anything to the King. Koslovsky gives the role a passionate sadness more touching than any dying soprano.
Marina Mnishek is played with wonderful cunning and coquetry by L. Avdeyevna. Aside from great acting and looking the part spot-on, Avdeyevna's voice flows like melted butter and her beauty would launch a thousand ships - warships only.
Remember, at the end, Russians know that the Time of Troubles is well under way. Boris's son, the last of the Rurikids, is quickly assassinated, and "Dmitriy" is crowned in Moscow. He rules well but is challenged by a great flaw: he (or his Jesuit advisors) tries to Catholicize Russia. It's not long before "Dmitriy" is himself assassinated and the country dissolves in civil war. Polish and Swedish forces contend with Russians and each other to secure the throne for this or that candidate. After a few years the Troubles end when Mikhail Romanov becomes Tsar. He and his heirs are the implacable foes of Poland, which is ultimately absorbed in pieces by Russia, Prussia, and Austria.
What a pity this tremendous production of a very great opera has such poor sound and is so badly cut. Even so, sound and awful editing and all, this is at least a 4-star product.