Home Entertainment “Boris Godunov”, the first version of Musorgsky’s opera at La Scala

“Boris Godunov”, the first version of Musorgsky’s opera at La Scala

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“Boris Godunov”, the first version of Musorgsky’s opera at La Scala

For the performance of Sant’Ambrogio at La Scala, tonight, corresponding to the ninth opening of the season in the Piermarini theater of maestro Riccardo Chailly, the choice fell on the first version of Musorgsky’s work “Boris Godunov”. Made in seven scenes, it is dated 1869.

Considered a classic and not just a true milestone of Russian music, this theatrical work influenced much of the twentieth century. Certainly the score releases a rare force, since Musorgsky was the creator of an expressive, non-decorative, sometimes harsh music, whose source must be sought in the soul of the Russian people. It is the same path that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky took in literature: the first by expressing universal ideals of peace, the second by asking the most disturbing questions about God.

The first version

“Boris Godunov”, with its versions multiplied by revisions, is the prototype of what we call “work in progress”. Choosing the first version (conceived in four parts, prologue and three acts), Maestro Chailly evokes a score in which notes appear that seem sculpted rather than written. It is true that Musorgsky himself, in an autobiographical page made known by Rimsky-Korsakov in “Pis’ma i dokumenty” (“Letters and documents”, 1932) declares that he does not belong to any contemporary musical group.


The charm of this La Scala performance is to be found in the uniqueness of the first “Boris Godunov”, whose art is distant from those elements that characterized Western music; one is far from the forms, the polyphony, the thematic developments applauded in Europe throughout the 19th century. Don’t try to grasp what some call constructive logic, because it isn’t there; everything arises from the word and from the gesture and from them the notes spring forth in complete freedom. You will realize at the end of this “Boris Godunov” that you will have heard something singular: a harmony you didn’t suspect, a rhythmic variety that cannot be found elsewhere.

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It must be added that the first draft of the work was rejected by the Reading Committee of the Imperial Theaters of St. Petersburg because it lacked a prominent female character and, in particular, because it was judged to be melodically deficient. Then on the score – with additions, cuts, afterthoughts and even more – Musorgsky himself intervened and, later, Rimsky-Korsakov. There is no need to summarize the philological history of this composition, it is enough to remember that Chailly has chosen to revive the notes created at the beginning and rejected by the usual formalists.

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