Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Khovanshchina

Tcherniakov Khovanshchina

Mussorgsky is a cause needed to be taken up passionately by more conductors. Abbado has been the modern era’s most vital Mussorgskian, followed by Gergiev. There have been excellent occasional advocates, such as Stokowski, Karajan, Knussen, and a few others. Kent Nagano, who conducts here, certainly is enthusiastic, but is unfortunately not in the same league. Otherwise, this is as close to a near perfect Khovanshchina as we are likely to get.
The biggest asset here is stage direction by the renowned Dmitri Tcherniakov. Tcherniakov is one of the most celebrated opera directors active today and for very good reasons: He is not gimmicky, does not set out to shock for the sake of shock and never fails to bring new insights to a libretto. It took Tcherniakov’s skillful, well-thought out, elaborate staging to transform this great Mussorgsky opera (never a repertoire staple) into a sell-out triumph for the Bavarian State Opera and Valery Gergiev. Critics echoed audiences and the result was a resounding, runaway success, followed by this filmed version (with the afore mentioned Nagano conducting the Bayerische Staatsoper).

We are fortunate to have access, via DVD, to Tcherniakov’s Khovanshchina. The plot concerns a struggle between religion and secular, political power. Tchernniakov dispenses with the history lesson and catapults the viewer into a grey state of dissolution and eventual chaos. Continue reading

Another excellent Wozzeck and the usual, superb Tcherniakov production

Dmitri Tcherniakov Wozzeck

It’s a good sign that we now have half a dozen excellent Wozzecks available on DVD. The best is probably the Patrice Chereau/Barenboim production (which was long, inexplicably available only in Europe). However, no single production has the final word and it is refreshing to see this opera (once considered a type of avant-garde boogey man) now almost standard repertoire. Even more encouraging is “standard” does not equate with stagnancy.

Tcherniakov Wozzeck 2010

Director Dmitri Tcherniakov is among the most respected art directors active today and for very good reasons. He is nowhere near as provocative or idiosyncratic in this opera, as say, Calixto Bieto in his 2010 production, but nor is Tcherniakov as by the book as Mussbach (in what was, for a long time, the only available version and an ultimately inadequate at that).

Tcherniakov Wozzeck 2010

This is not to say Tcherniakov’s staging is not an interpretive one. Indeed, he takes a frightening, Orwellian approach. The tonal shift from soldier to business man casts the opera in a political sheen, which is apt as Berg’s libretto does not shy at all from such implications.

 

Tcherniakov Wozzeck 2010Alban Berg

Sociological themes abound. Wozzeck (Georg Nigel) is caught in a 21st century bourgeoise hell, living his postmodern, virtual life in perverse role playing games while failing to make human contact with his lover, Maire (Mardi Byers). Byers excels in her role of a frustrated sex symbol type. Their son is even more alienated, a constant, distant spectral presence, only coming to life with Wii remote control in hand.

And oh, that box.

Tcherniakov Wozzeck

Nigel and Byers are as up to their respective roles vocally,as they are in the acting department. The remaining cast is uniformly superb, including Maxim Paster, as the Captain, Pyotr Migunov as the Doctor, and Xenia Vyaznikova as Margret.

Tcherniakov Wozzeck

There is much more to Tcherniakov’s thoughtful concepts, which everyone can probably agree captures the contextual and gestural spirt of Alban Berg (of course, the opera fundamentalists will carp, but they can just go home).

Tcherniakov Wozzeck

The dvd includes a valuable making of documentary. There is room on Berg’s shelf for this Wozzeck.

Tcherniakov Wozzeck DVDAlban Berg by Schoenberg

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