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Your reaction: Boris Godunov

What did you think of Richard Jones's new Royal Opera production of Musorgsky’s magnificent opera?

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

15 March 2016 at 10.55am | 24 Comments

Press reviews:
Times (£) ★★★★★
The Stage ★★★★★
Evening Standard ★★★★
Guardian ★★★★
Financial Times ★★★★
The Londonist ★★★★
Telegraph ★★★★
Time Out ★★★★
Arts Desk ★★★
Independent ★★★
A Younger Theatre (No stars, positive)

What did you think of Boris Godunov?
Let us know via the comments below.

Boris Godunov runs until 5 April 2016. Tickets are still available.

The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 21 March 2016. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list.

The production is a co-production with Deutsche Oper Berlin and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, The Tsukanov Family Foundation, Dr and Mrs Michael West, Simon and Virginia Robertson, The Mikheev Charitable Trust, the Shauna Gosling Trust, Mercedes T. Bass, the American Friends of Covent Garden, the Boris Godunov Production Syndicate and an anonymous donor

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

15 March 2016 at 10.55am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged Boris Godunov, by Richard Jones, Production, review, Social Media, twitter, your reaction

This article has 24 comments

  1. Stephen Cutler responded on 15 March 2016 at 11:15am Reply

    Absolutely gripping from start to finish. Taut, beautifully focused production, superbly lit. Fine singing, and probably the best thing I have heard Terfel do. Tremendous chorus. A very intense and rewarding evening.

  2. Emile Myburgh responded on 15 March 2016 at 11:29am Reply

    Will you consider staging the 1874 version at some stage in the future? Boris Godunov was to be my annual pilgrimage to the Royal Opera from Johannesburg, but when I realised you were performing the 1869 version, I decided it didn't justify the cost of getting to London, to my immense disappointment. Having said that, will it be released on DVD later?

    • Marianne responded on 18 March 2016 at 11:40pm

      you can see the filmed production on 21 March at 19.15 UK time direct from the ROH in case you do not know. You can find details on the ROH website. I will go to our local Cinema and watch. Good luck and enjoy Marianne

  3. Coppelia responded on 15 March 2016 at 12:59pm Reply

    I was new to this opera and although it was slow paced (and the lack of interval was a bit tough sat at a crooked angle in the Upper Slips) I found it an intriguing and rewarding production, and surprisingly suspenseful given that not an awful lot happens. Hats off to the ROHChorus who were the real star and to Pappano who conducted with ferocious intensity the whole evening.

  4. Moya Moffat responded on 15 March 2016 at 10:19pm Reply

    Wonderful music and playing by the orhestra.Loved the costumes and staging.Chorus was magnificent.Bryn Terfel was a wonderful Boris

    I would have liked a few minutes pause in the middle so I could stand up to move my aching joints.

  5. Chiaki Ohashi responded on 16 March 2016 at 5:52am Reply

    As someone else has been writing on social media, I felt that the reason why there was an age restriction attached to this production was quite unclear. (I personally assumed that it was because the opera ran for two hours non stop and would be an ordeal for young people to sit through.) I think there would be no harm if the opera house would be clear about the director's (or the executive's) thinking behind these decisions. Otherwise I think the show was excellent.

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 16 March 2016 at 11:32am

      Hi Chiaki,

      Thanks for your comment. The reason for the age guidance for this production is the on stage violence depicted within the production.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the production.



  6. Denis Ribeiro responded on 17 March 2016 at 1:39pm Reply

    Apart from the famous bits - the coronation scene (good chorus) and the death of Boris (riveting), I find the rest is tedious padding with little dramatic effect. Indeed the whole seems to lack genuine theatrical coherence - mostly people narrating events happening elsewhere. It almost goes without saying that Bryn Terfel is a towering presence whenever he is "on", but most other bits are limp and plain silly. Monks drinking too much and falling about is NOT funny!

  7. John Nichols responded on 17 March 2016 at 6:22pm Reply

    The production was synthetic, tedious, and repetitive - do you really need to show the Heirs death once, let alone 4 or 5 times?

  8. David responded on 18 March 2016 at 8:56am Reply

    2hrs 10mins is too long without even a minute break to stand and stretch. In my £70 seat in the amphitheatre I can't even cross my legs. Torture. Good opera though!

  9. W J Owen responded on 18 March 2016 at 11:17pm Reply

    I enjoyed it . The orchestra had a fabulous rich sound as did the chorus which had a good stab at sounding Russian , a really difficult task. Bryn suited the role but I would love to hear a Russian bass in the role too to compare ( this was my first Boris). John Tom was clearly having a lot of fun. It was nice to see a production which wasn't gimmicky . I did, however, think it was asking too much of the standing members of the audience to stand for 2 hours and 10 minutes with no break at all ( and Tony Pappano and the standing musicians come to think of it.) even just 5 minutes would have made a difference .

  10. Rosemary McDonald responded on 19 March 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

    Wonderful singing,chorus and orchestra which I thouroughy enjoyed and will be going to the HD broadcast on Monday for another helping of that. Shame I found myself a bit divereted by some odd costumes some of which looked like possible Tescos pyjamas for West Ham! Would agree with others who were in discomfort without a break to stretch legs.

  11. Narjit responded on 22 March 2016 at 2:22pm Reply

    I attended Monday's performance and was left underwhelmed. By far the greatest problem was the poor Russian pronunciation of the chorus and most of the cast. Ain Anger clearly has an understanding of the language and the difference in his delivery of the words was startling. Terfel's voice took a long time to warm up - he was virtually inaudible at the start - and although he was sounding magnificent by the end, not least in the way he could fine his massive voice down to a whisper, this was scant compensation for the way he pronounced the words. Pappano clearly loves the score and the orchestra played magnificently but even this impassioned advocacy could not overcome the unfinished nature of the original version. Two hours without a break was a serious miscalculation. The audience's response at the end was somewhat muted.

  12. Anne Armitage responded on 22 March 2016 at 4:20pm Reply

    Wonderful voices and impressive Russian! But the costumes and general production seem a bit budget, even considering that it was the earlier version. I saw the 1874 version at the Bolshoy years ago; it finish with a Polish invasion and Grigory entering on a horse. The audience were in tears.

  13. James Gordon responded on 22 March 2016 at 9:46pm Reply

    I didn’t travel to London for this. I don’t like the original version (as an earlier comment observes, it is like a draft) and I couldn’t imagine Bryn Terfel singing Boris. I haven’t changed either of these opinions as a result of seeing it in the cinema, but I'm glad I saw it. Played without an interval, tension was maintained and the seven scenes almost seemed coherent as a drama, not just as a piece of music. And Terfel's acted performance was seriously impressive.

    Boris is a bass, preferably a Slavic bass, not a bass-baritone. I don’t care what the role was originally conceived as; a piece like this is a living thing. Like Don Carlo(s), this opera evolved more than most after its original conception. Unlike Don Carlo(s), most of the evolution was beneficial. Terfel, seen in close-up, was impressive and frequently moving (in the final scene most of all). Unfortunately, for me, his voice is simply wrong for this part. Surrounding him with true basses only emphasised this. Along with the chorus, Ain Anger and John Tomlinson were the stars, the latter especially showing his versatility by making a slightly sinister comic role his own rather than simply recalling past glories as Boris.

    As always with Richard Jones, the production was intelligent and good to look at, even when it didn’t work. The coronation scene was magnificent, but most of the costumes in the other court scenes were odd. The repeated motif of the Tsarevich’s murder was clearly designed to show us Boris’s obsessive imaginings; as usual with such devices, it merely became tiresome. Terfel’s performance did not require such gimmicky support – we could see well enough what was going on in his head without needing to have it visualised for us by the director. And was I the only one who didn’t “get” the meaning of the final tableau, with the Pseudo-Dmitri confronting Boris’s son? Given the (presumably deliberate) visual resemblance between Boris’s son and the murdered Dmitri, I was expecting Michael Romanov to murder him and assume the crown, thus setting in train the next cycle of violence.

    But oh for a Polish princess and a scene in the forest! There is more to Russia than men in Moscow.

    Vue Inverness set the volume too high, thereby destroying any illusion of a live performance in an opera house – including the (usually disastrous) consequences of making someone sing a major set-piece from high above the Covent Garden stage.

    2 hours 10 minutes without an interval is too long? No longer than the first part of Götterdämmerung, the first act of Parsifal or the last of Die Meistersinger…

  14. Alexander Jacoby responded on 25 March 2016 at 2:46pm Reply

    I agree with what seems to be the balance of the comments: I'd rather have heard the later version - incorporating the Polish act, and ending with the spotlight on the people rather than the Tsar, just seems to give the work greater scope and power. My other major gripe was the near-unchanging set: even in the more geographically restricted 1869 version, place is important, and I'd liked more to have been done to distinguish, say, an inn in Lithuania from a cathedral in Moscow (in saying this, to avoid misunderstanding, I'm not demanding a "traditional" production, just one with some real scene changes!).

    Bearing these two points in mind, I actually wonder if the ROH might not considered asking Richard Jones to rework the production at some point in the future so that the second version could be staged. The scenes added in revision would be the obvious places for a contrasting set and ambience.

    Like some people above, I wasn't convinced that Bryn Terfel was absolutely right for the role, but overall he did move me. As an ensemble, the cast was generally excellent, and the chorus was terrific. So despite some reservations, well done.

  15. John Seldon responded on 26 March 2016 at 12:10am Reply

    Marvellous chorus and John Tomlinson made one wish he had been cast as Boris whilst Pappano was on top form. Terfel ? Well he was as I suspected too light of tone to send the shivers down my spine although there were moments when that tone was thrilling and the acting was good. Richard Jones? Sorry, The production did not contextualise the story or add any atmosphere and reminded me of one I saw used in a production of Turandot !. Why is it that these days when I go to see opera I feel I want to close my eyes and listen rather than look at the stage. The set was just a boring box and detracted from my enjoyment. As for the upper level of the set, why did I look up at the upper slips from my seat and see the similarity. Is there no one out there who can design a set which complements the opera. They are all trying to be so idiosyncratic that they have lost sight of the fact they should be enhancing the opera not trying to enhance their own reputation with the cogniscenti.

  16. Katherine Fitton responded on 26 March 2016 at 10:37pm Reply

    From all the way up in the Right Upper Slips on Monday 21 March, a lot of the action and staging was completely lost to me. However, this did give me the advantage of only having to witness the heir's murder once (the other times I obscured my view with the spotlights / watched the orchestra instead!). What I didn't miss were the fantastic performances - others are welcome to disagree with me, but I really thought all the singers were wonderful - though I did have trouble differentiating between the male voices since there were so many of them, mostly in similar costumes, and I could only see their legs if they were on the upper staging. The chorus stole the show for me, I found the quality of sound was sublime and inspiring.

  17. Mark responded on 27 March 2016 at 11:23am Reply

    I went on the Saturday night. I felt pretty underwhelmed at the end. It started off very good and enjoyable, but as the production went on I found my enthusiasm waning. If there had been an interval it was one of those productions I may have considered bailing out.

    I didn't find the length a problem, though I am a Wagnerian so I have got used to sitting that long without a break. Saying that, when you go to a film it is longer than that.

  18. Paul responded on 6 April 2016 at 12:03am Reply

    Enjoyed it. I found Terfel to be lyrical but the most commanding vocals came from Ain Anger.

  19. Stephen Ratcliffe responded on 6 April 2016 at 9:17am Reply

    Was there last night. Fantastic show, very well sung. I like the original version. Terfel may not have a classic Boris voice but what a performer. The orchestra and chorus were wonderful. Oh and the 2 hours 10 mins went by in a flash.

  20. John Kellas responded on 6 April 2016 at 12:34pm Reply

    Sorry, but we didn't like this. I have not seen Boris for many years, but my memory was of a much more gripping work with more moving scenes with Boris. I think the problem was not the excellent performance (especially the chorus), but the edition (rightly rejected in my view when first written). It is too unvarying in tone and atmosphere and sitting through this lengthy work at a single sitting left one unresponsive to Boris's great scene with his son. Much easier to take a long sitting with Wagner. And, by the way, from our seats in the stalls we heard a constant electronic sound (a bit like a loudspeaker hum) which was irritating. I should have liked to be more positive, but not on this occasion.

  21. Caroline lees responded on 19 April 2016 at 7:23pm Reply

    I have seen many Boris productions. This one was quite the worst. What is it with the conceit of directors. Why set it in Butlins Holiday Camp, the costumes were most confusing then suddenly the chorus is dressed in what look like Kimonos. A very expensive disaster. Wonderful singing thank God.

  22. Since I could not go to a theatre , I could see only a small part on my computer but I agree with comments about the production, especially the repetition of the child's murder. But especially I disliked the costumes worn by the boyars which were like bell-hops- also at the great death scene they obscured Boris and were distracting. Terfel was the redeeming feature - his great voice, I believe, was perfect for this role; although most often sung by bases, I read that it ws written for a bass-baritone - and Terfel's voice and acting certainly redeemed the whole production, as well as the wonderful chorus and orchestra. I hope there will be a DVD.

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