Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
For years, fans of Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" have argued the merits of the composer's original opera, against the widely used arrangement made by Rimsky Korsakov. Recently the Metropolitan Opera decided to present the original. This version was seen and heard Wednesday night at Wolf Trap.
The differences between Mussorgsky and Rimsky are myriad and striking. In preparing what proved a hihghly useful addition, Rimsky altered melodies, harmonies and rhythm, as well as making great changes in the orchestration. The original is much grimmer in sound, often stark in its melodies lines. At times it seems abrupt without the softening effect of Pimsky's ore conventional approach.
The Met's new production mirrors these changes: Costumes are black and brown with few exceptions; lighting is kept dim. The sets seen Wednesday night, however, are largely those used for touring, and not the designs used in New York. They were shabby beyond belief, except for the last of the Kremlin scenes.
One of the great benefits of the original is the way it highlights the choral writing, letting it stand out far more clearly than it ever can when it must complete with Rimsky-Korsakov. The chorus Wednesday night sang handsomely throughout.
Jerome Hines was the Boris, and an admirable achievement in the part. He has kept his voice in excellent condition in more than three decades at the Met. He knows the role inside and out, and with vocal and dramatic nunances made each of its scenes powerful, though the hallucination Scene was overdone in several respects.
In a well-balanced cast of many strength, the singing in Russian, Mignon Dunns Marina was outstanding vocally, especially since, in the inept staging of Phebe Berkowitz, she was required to spend more time prostrate on the floor than any Marina in memory.
The stage direction was flabby at most points, though the final act showed more defination than anything that preceded it. The scene in the border inn was pallid to the point of being dull, a difficult thing to achieve in this usually lively episode. But the same must be said of the entire first act.
Allan Monk was an excellent Shchcelkalov, and young Robert Sapolsky very good as Fyodor. Andrea Velis made the Simpleton a moment of high drama through sensitive singing. But Robert Nagy failed to give Shuisky any of the requisite sinister insinuation.
The orchestra played well under Richard Woitach's conducting. But memories of the Bolshoi "Boris" seen here not long ago would not go away. Indeed, as a touring production, this one falls far below the superb sets created for the Ralph Corbetts several years ago, which looked handsome on the summer stage at Saratoga.