Boris Godunov is one of the most dramatically rewarding bass-baritone roles: a noble ruler who loves his children and his people, but whose thirst for power has led him to commit a terrible crime. Musorgsky traces the Tsar's downfall with psychological acuity, from the nobility of his Coronation to his tragic end in one of opera's most affecting death scenes. Other highlights include the stirring chorus that opens and closes the Coronation Scene (based on a Russian folksong), Pimen's austere monologue in Scene 7 and the comic interlude with the monks Varlaam and Missail in Scene 4. Richard Jones's insightful production reflects the conflict between Boris's public persona and his private guilt through a set in which the murder of the Tsarevitch Dmitry is ritually re-enacted in a high vaulted room.
Musorgsky was inspired to compose Boris Godunov after reading Pushkin's Shakespeare-inspired play of the same name. He completed his first version of the opera in 1869, but it was rejected by the Imperial Theatres Directorate due to its lack of lyricism and significant female characters. Musorgsky's revised 1872 version - which contained more formal arias, several additional characters and a new act - received its premiere in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg. The Royal Opera performs the composer's original version, which has a predominantly naturalistic and declamatory vocal style, and in which the story remains focused on Boris throughout.
Richard Jones’ staging reaches the dark heart of Musorgsky’s baleful masterpiece
Boris Godunov has as much to say about today as it does about the chaotic years after Ivan the Terrible's reign