Khovanshchina, Cardiff WMC 07 October

***

171008khovanshchina

Photograph from WNO site

The choral singing here was wonderful, and on a different plane from what I had heard in some 350 previous evenings at the opera. On the other hand, the attempt to universalise the action by setting it in the early Soviet period while adding in Samurai warriors and a gas chamber did little to clarify the action, centring as it did on the attempts of various groups to appose the accession of Tsar Peter I (or Peter the Great).

Musorgsky suffered from various difficulties with the scenario, such as being dead drunk much of the time, not being able to finish it, and not being able to portray any members of the Romanov dynasty on stage. Still, one should attempt to make things more rather than less clear. The scenario does at least give a coherent and probably accurate picture of Old (Pre-Petrine!) Russia as violent, lascivious and God-haunted, which doesn’t really fit with the early Bolshevik period.

Apart from the choruses, it was Shaklovitsky’s patriotic peroration that made an impact, but we were left with no clear idea whether he was meant to be Edmund or the Duke of Kent. So why did Khovansky take a bath in his (albeit bloodied) trousers while the Persian Slave ended up naked? (Probably because she constituted an allusion to Hella from The Master and Margarita.)

Probably Dosifei came off rather too sympathetically in the absence of any real competition, while it was far from clear what his Old Believer followers were up to in the end, in terms of burning themselves to death or indeed anything else…

Perhaps the main interest was in comparing the Welsh surtitles with the English ones and with what was being sung in something (occasionally) like Russian. I was gratified to find that А ты in Russian was ‘A ti’ in Welsh, and interested by all of the Latin words in Welsh–a legacy of the lost Romano-British culture or (more probably) of deliberate language planning in more recent times.

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