I usually shy away from superlatives but it seems to me that Boris Godunov is arguably the greatest of all Russian operas. It has many problems, of course, such as which version to present: Mussorgsky's first or second version, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Rathaus or what have you. But it also has a title role for an actor-bass-singer to kill for and, in fact has had many illustrious interpreters over the years such as, most famously, Feodor Chaliapin (Sr.).
This is a cut film version of the opera but certainly one of the most powerful for all that. The lead is sung by Aleksandr Pirogov whose ability to sing on pitch is questionable, especially in the long notes where one can almost drive a truck through the wobble. But his acting ability has made that rather a moot point. (Yevgeni Nesterenko in the 1987 version, in comparison, looks like he is hosting a tea party.) Mussorgsky was interested in basing his melodies on natural speech patterns and this may be the reason why this doesn't matter so much.
But the pivotal role of the Simpleton (Fool) is beautifully sung and acted by Ivan Koslovsky, a staple of the Bolshoi Opera which is featured in this film. He was apparently one of the great Russian Bel Canto tenors and one TV program on Bel Canto tenors, rebroadcast 4/7/06 was about Koslovsky and included part of this performance.
All have been carefully cast: Georgi Nelepp sings Grigori, the False Dmitri and has been made up to look like his description except that he is nowhere around 20. Boris' son Feodor is often sung by a woman but not here. I. Khmelnitsky, the Feodor, is rarely heard in this film, but when he is, he has a surprisingly high piercing voice (counter-tenor?).
Though we will probably never know the truth, the death of the true heir to the throne, Dmitri, may have been due to his playing with knives at the time of an epileptic fit and many have thought Boris was innocent of any crime. So I think it's fair to describe this Boris as Pushkin's much as the Richard III in the play is Shakespeare's.
The visuals are sometimes astonishing and the direction by Vera Stroyeva is excellent. The film edits are often badly done and obvious and the English subtitles are sparse.
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