A while ago, I attended a performance of the opera Boris Godunov at the Barbican; I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and while I wasn’t planning on seeing the opera again, I decided to book for this “Insights” event at the Royal Opera House, designed to coincide with the new production by Richard Jones. The opera has a chequered history: the original music and libretto (used in this production) are by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, but over the years various composers, including Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich, have added and altered the work to make it more palatable to the Russian authorities.
This event was presented by Christopher Cook, and featured a number of insightful individuals with knowledge of the opera. The evening began with a fascinating introduction by writer and broadcaster Stephen Johnson, who outlined the work’s rich history. We then heard from Robert Lloyd and John Tomlinson, two performers who have sung the role of Boris in the past. Lloyd was the first British bass to sing the role with the Royal Opera, creating the role in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 production, while Tomlinson sung the role in a later season and this year returns to sing Varlaam.
Next we heard from Susanna Stranders, the Chief Repetiteur. I didn’t know what a repetiteur was but it is apparently a pianist who accompanies rehearsals at opera companies. Stranders accompanied Ain Anger (Pimen) and Andrew Tortise (Simpleton) as they sang excerpts from the forthcoming production. Finally, Assistant Director Richard Gerard Jones discussed his thoughts on the new production, how it has been put together, and how the director Richard Jones works.
I really enjoyed the insights into the production, hearing excerpts from the score, and learning about the work’s complicated history. It was enough to convince me that I wanted to see Boris Godunov again – luckily I was able to obtain a cheap ticket, so I will be at the ROH in March!