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The Sunday Opera: Mussorgsky's "Boris Gudonov" in its 1869 original one-act version

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In front of the Palace of Facets, Boris Gudonov and the False Dmitri 1 vie for power.

We’ve got another production from the Vienna State Opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/4 3:00 p.m.), and it’s an unfamiliar version of a widely known work. Modest Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” is better known in its versions by Rimsky-Korsakov (1896 & 1908) and the final version (for now) by Dmitriy Shostakovich (1940), but this week’s version is that of the original piece finished by Mussorgsky in 1869 which is closest to the drama by Pushkin, contains recitatives, a few scenes that have been highly altered, and is performed in one act.

The story is basically the same: Gudonov, who has feelings of foreboding after being coerced into taking the Russian throne, finally succumbs to them as the political machinations swirl around him. The throne had been vacant since the supposed murder of the true heir, Prince Dimitri, and many are implicating Boris in that murder. It is unclear if Dimitri was actually murdered, and this gives rise to three “False Dimitris,” and the first, eventually identified as a Polish renegade monk named Grigory Bogdanovich Otrepyev, actually wins the favor of the Russian miliary and people and is the only man to be named Tsar through an uprising. He rises to the throne at the end of the opera shortly after Gudonov dies. Historically, he will remain Tsar for approximately one year before being overthrown and killed.

Alexander Tsymbalyuk leads the cast as Gudonov with Dmitry Golovnin as Grigory who becomes the “False Dmitri.” Other members of the cast include Vitalij Kowaljow, Thomas Ebenstein, Margaret Plummer, Ileana Tonca, Sergey Kaydalov, Ilja Kazakov, and Daniel Jenz. Sebastian Weigle leads the Vienna State Orchestra and Chorus.

Since today’s opera is performed in one act, it gives Michael Kownacky more time to bring you a complete symphony that you generally wouldn’t get except in one of WWFM’s evening concerts. Stay tuned after the opera for a complete performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 performed by The Vienna Philharmonic with soloist Anne Sofie von Otter who will be joined by the Women’s Chorus of the Vienna Singverein and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Pierre Boulez conducts.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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