CLASSICAL MUSIC / Suicide brings house down

SOME things do not translate. There is no agreed Western spelling for Musorgsky (Mussorgsky? Moussorgsky?); no precise English equivalent for the title of his opera Khovanshchina (The Khovansky Affair? The Khovansky Mess?); and no easy route for a non-Russian audience through the epic discontinuity of its narrative - if, indeed, you can describe as narrative a pageant in six scenes that bears no story but the burden of the Russian soul through history. For good reasons this solemn, grand but problematic work is rarely seen in Britain.

But ENO has a new production, conducted by Sian Edwards and staged by Francesca Zambello, the American director with a track-record for successful handling of epic history. And if the result at Thursday's opening night was not an unqualified triumph, it came close: especially in the later scenes when energy picked up and erupted - no other word for it - into an aural and visual climax of breathtaking power. The final tableaux of mass suicide brought down not just the curtain but the house.

But the end of Khovanshchina is a question mark: director and conductor have to ask themselves what sort of opera this is. They don't get much help from the original score, which Musorgsky didn't finish. There was no pre-existing libretto, the text evolved with the music; and Rimsky-Korsakov's comment that ''none of us understood the real subject'' comes from the man who assumed the task of completion. If he didn't know . . .

Broadly speaking, the tableaux of Khovanshchina depict the emergence of modern Russia, in the person of Peter the Great, out of the political turmoil of the 17th century. Peter does not appear: the Tsarist regime of Musorgsky's time did not allow dramatic portrayal of members of the Romanov dynasty. So the action, such as it is, centres on the intrigues of his opponents, who conveniently wipe each other out in a textbook illustration of Divide & Rule. Musorgsky's characters blend fact with fiction, and he invents a notional love interest as a sort of fixing gel for the piece. But Khovanshchina is less a drama of individuals than an essay on the fateful forces to which individuals are subject. Musorgsky talked about ''the power of the black earth'', and his response to it seems to have been akin to the pessimism of Wagner and Schopenhauer's surrender to the Will. He takes no obvious side within the conflicts he presents.

But Rimsky-Korsakov did, adding a coda to that grim concluding scene of corporate suicide to herald the (off-stage) arrival of Tsar Peter ushering in a new dawn of enlightenment. And when Shostakovich made a further version of the score in the 1950s, socialist realism dictated that an optimistic coda should remain. Shostakovich's version is, despite a few anachronisms, generally regarded as the best, and it's what you hear at ENO.

But ENO has ditched the coda. Pessimism is restored; and so, in Ms Zambello's towering production, is neutrality. Angels and villains are dispensed with; and she rescues the result from greyness with a strong, uncluttered staging (apart from a skeletal iron-framed module, carefully massed people are the chief props) and by upgrading the identifying qualities of the central roles: the rugged Russian virility of Willard White's Khovansky; the Western sophistication of Kim Begley's Golistyn; the Old Testament authority of Gwynne Howells's Dosifey.

The true heroes of this production, though, are the chorus and orchestra who carry its often massive weight with great style. And they share the credit with Sian Edwards who has needed a success of this order since she arrived at the Coliseum. If nothing else, she had to live up to ENO's claims for her as a Musorsgky specialist who studied this score in depth in Russia. It was make or break. And, after an over-careful start, she made it, loading all the power of the black earth that anyone could ask for into the darkness of those last scenes.

Like ENO, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has been in epic mode, reminding its audiences that ''contemporary'' embraces not only ink-wet scores from new composers but established works such as Karlheinz Stockhausen's Momente which had a truly spectacular performance last weekend. Momente is a sort of 1960s happening, a fact which the performers - four separate choruses, instrumentalists from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, soprano Angela Tunstall and conductor Jonty Harrison - acknowledged by trooping on in silly clothes. There is an element of theatre in the piece, so it was all right. But the ambition of Momente extends beyond period charm. Stockhausen never did write small works: every one is a Mahlerian effort to compose the world, combined with a megalomania that places Stockhausen at the world's centre. Momente does just that, and celebrates - ecstatically and spatially - the idea of Love with a musical structure which reflects what ''Love'' meant to the Stockhausen household of the 1960s: an unresolved triangle between Karlheinz and his successive wives, Doris and Mary. The ''moments'' from which the score takes its title are identified by the initials K, D and M. Issues the composer failed to sort out in real life are hereby transferred to music where the dramatis personae are more manipulable.

With or without its subtext, Momente is an awesome work, absorbing a universe of disparate material from biblical texts to gibberish noise, from joy to terror, from the sublime to the absurd. The effect is evangelical: it feels like an American fundamentalist revival meeting, amplified. And after a central performance from Angela Tunstall unstinting in its stamina and virtuosity, the only thing it lacked at Huddersfield was members of the audience coming forward with discarded crutches. An uplifting, rather dangerous experience.

- 'Khovanshchina': Coliseum, 071632 8300, six more performances.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?