Boris Godunov, Royal Opera House, London

The best thing in Russia comes from Croydon
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The Independent Culture

This was the 1869 version of Boris: a more transparent, tougher orchestral score, a more concise narrative, and one in which the reluctant Tsar is put out of his, and our, misery by a floating pastel onion dome with eight silver tentacles. Think Dougal and the Blue Cat meets Barbarella meets Monty Python and you've got it. A powerful dramatic experience? Of course. I shall never look at a Christmas bauble in quite the same way again.

Aside from the variously floating and roller-skating onion domes - in cutesome shades of powder blue and sweet-pea pink - Tsypin's designs featured seven-foot coal scuttles for the Boyars, with holes near the top for the singers to put their faces through, as though posing for an end-of-the-pier novelty photograph. Despite standard issue stack heels, not all of the chorus met the required height; leaving several of them standing on tippy-toe or jumping up and down. Boris (Vladimir Vaneev) too had issues with his costume: a full-length gilded cage like a bejewelled baby-walker. No wonder he was fed up.

So the production sucked. What do you expect? Good music, I hear you say. Authentic gloom and passion. In part, this was the case. The sobbing intensity of the Kirov strings is like no other in the world; whether wallowing or scurrying under Gergiev's extreme tempi. With the honourable exception of Evgeny Akimov's incisive Simpleton, however, the singing was nothing to write home about. Vaneev's soft-focus Boris was a pale shadow of John Tomlinson's interpretation, Nikolai Gassiev (Shuisky) would be pushed to get a job as a lounge singer in St Albans, while Marya Matveeva's Fyodor was merely perky. The strongest chorus work came from Croydon, courtesy of the Trinity Boys Choir.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

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