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