FIRST NIGHT

Boris Godunov/English National Opera

Director Francesca Zambello scored a bold success with her striking production of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina at the London Coliseum back in 1994. Now she's back to tackle Mussorgsky's even larger epic, Boris Godunov.

Her first hurdle was which of the labyrinthine versions of the opera to produce. No other first opera which has subsequently been acknow- ledged as a masterpiece has probably ever been created with such meagre composi- tional experience and against such a negative cultural background. The composer was the archetypal glorious amateur. He resigned an important commission in the Russian Guards in his mid-twenties to devote himself to music. That said, only a handful of "promising" songs had flowed from his pen by the time, a few years later, he decided to condense Pushkin's epic verse drama from 25 scenes to a mere seven, rewriting considerably in the process.

The premiere was largely greeted with total incom- prehension, so Mussorgsky set about revising, adding an entirely new act as well as solidifying some of the more open harmonies. Even though that version met with greater acclaim, it still didn't become a repertory classic. After Mussorgsky's premature (and alcohol-related) death at the age of 42, Rimsky-Korsakov took it upon himself to re-orchestrate it yet again, although for the last 30 years or so the tendency has been to go back to Mussorgsky's own thoughts.

For this new ENO production Zambello and conductor Paul Daniel return to the first seven-scene concoction, with the addition of an eighth scene - the last of all (in the revision) which opens up the action again to embrace the Russian people beyond the earlier and rather bald ending of Boris's death.

The chosen version is by far the most streamlined one, seamlessly taking the story of the dastardly Tsar through the last and increasingly turbulent years of his barbaric reign. A magnificent cast has been assembled, which includes the voices of Robert Tear, Mark Le Brocq and Roberto Salvatori, all spearheaded by the stentorian tones and massive stage presence of bass-baritone John Tomlinson as Boris. With the likes of Hildegard Bechtler on sets, Nicky Gillibrand on costumes and Wolfgang Gobbel on lighting, this is also a world-class production dream team. A still fondly remembered Khovanshchina... four years on can Zambello weave the same magic on Boris Godunov? Probably.

London Coliseum, London WC2 (0171-632 8300) Wed, 7.30pm

DH

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