Tag Archive: Ildar Abdrazakov

Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina Revisits the Met after 13 Years

Anatoli Kotscherga as Ivan Khovansky in Mussorgsky's €œKhovananshchina.€ Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Even if the performance had not been as great as it was, we both, as newcomers to Khovanshchina, would have left the Met in a state of uncritical awe. Mussorgsky’s historical tragedy, although the composer left it unorchestrated and unfinished at his early death, leaving a great deal of work for others, including Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich in their separate efforts, has all the potency the greatest music and the most powerful human drama can lend it—all within a setting of the grandest spectacle. As the Met presented it earlier this month, its four and a half hours sped by, as we followed the hopeless and ultimately disastrous adventures of key players of various factions in the unstable years of Peter the Great’s minority. Even Mussorgsky’s finished opera, his acknowledged masterpiece, Boris Godunov, does not leave us with such an overwhelmingly cathartic effect as the inexorable succession of assassinations, executions, and suicides with which Khovanshchina concludes. Mussorgsky, who wrote the libretto as well as the music, seems to have captured the tragic essence of history in it. There was a specific reason why the final effect of the Met performance was so moving, but to explain it, a little background is in order.

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The audience poured out of the auditorium, through the lobby, and out into the parking lots with such a happy general purring that it seemed villainous to criticize the brave new entertainment Peter Gelb has brought the world. For almost five years now we have been able to watch High Definition video projections of performances at the Metropolitan Opera in movie theaters and auditoriums like the one at the Clark Art Institute, which I had just vacated. HD Live, as it’s called, has become a hit in most places, I hear—certainly in Great Barrington and Williamstown, where I’ve seen them, mingling with a dense, enthusiastic, mostly mature crowd. It’s often harder to get a ticket to one of these projections than it is to get a seat at Met itself.

What could be more commendable than creating a show that provides so much enjoyment? It brings opera to a vast global audience at reasonable prices, and at various times in the past half-century many have feared opera was in danger of dying out altogether, either from the expense of production and operation or the sheer irrelevance of its elitist origins. The Met opera broadcasts, which began in the early 1930s, changed many lives and, in synergy with the Metropolitan Opera Guild and Opera News, helped raise significant sums of money for the Met during the Great Depression, when the house desperately needed funds and people needed cheap entertainment. Are the times not similar today? The broadcasts only created more opera-lovers, and what possible harm could they do? (Actually I know of one example, but I’ll leave that for another time.) Wouldn’t the HD transmissions, with their spectacular images and vivid sound bring even more good into the world?