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Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, January 2010

We already have a modern-dress/eternal Russia DVD production of Khovanshchina with Stein Winge’s exciting 2007 production from Barcelona (Opus Arte). The newcomer was also recorded in 2007. It will exercise strong appeal to collectors with a special interest in staging because Dmitri Tcherniakov erects a double-decker Eisenstein-style montage structure on the stage, which is used for all but the last scene. The largest performing space is at center-stage and hardly big enough to accommodate the crowd scenes prominent in this magnificent opera. Video director Karina Fibich compensates with some clever reverse angles from the wings. Tcherniakov also emplaces two non-vocal characters of his own invention (Tsar Peter and Tsarevna Sophia) to pantomime something not entirely clear because they are caught by the cameras only in long shots. The director also reveals a penchant for having male characters change their trousers on stage. Curiosity will keep dedicated Mussorgskians going for a long time but the treatment of the scene chez Khovansky with the dancing Persian slave girls is absolute (and unentertaining) heresy. Stalwart support from Nagano and the orchestra cannot save the show. The chorus is lackluster in voice and playacting. The only real standout vocal performance is from the incorrigible (for implacable resistance to inane stage direction) Anatoli Kotscherga in the role of Dosifey.

The lasting virtue of this performance is that it confirms the standing of the 1989 semi-traditional staging (Kirchner/Abbado) at the Vienna State Opera (Image Entertainment) as still the best available on DVD. In the role of Ivan Khovansky, the late Nicolai Ghiaurov will likely never be surpassed.

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1:55:00 PM, 3 September 2015
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