A real thrill for Khovanshchina fans
Julian Grant | London, Beijing, New York | 09/11/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'm at a loss how to rate this properly. This performance is vivid, gripping, even thrilling in places, the recording quality (a radio broadcast) bright and forward (possibly a little too shallow) with the singers placed close - as a performance it's in the 4-5 star bracket. Opera d'oro are releasing live/radio performances at budget prices, so some real bargains can be found. However, if you don't know this opera, and its incredibly contorted textual history, and you don't know the libretto, which is complex and because of the operas unfinished state, confused and inconsequential in places, you will get no help from the accompanying booklet. There is a very inadequate scenario (with much missing), and the CD tracking is eccentric in the extreme. The booklet just gives track numbers with an English translation of the given libretto line, so it is meaningless. There are no timings either.More things the booklet doesn't tell you: the performance is sung in Italian, and that it is the Shostakovich version of the opera. In fact it's a very full version indeed, fuller than the DG Abbado recording: like the Gergiev recording, it even contains the Pastor's scene in Act 2 that Mussorgsky cut himself. And the following dispute of the princes is full - Abbado truncated this admittedly difficult, wordy, scene in his recording. You also get all of Susanna's scenes.So, if you are new to this opera, you'll want a recording in Russian, with full libretto.However, if you love fine singing, this cast is almost too good to be true! Russian opera in Italian generally works rather well, it's less jarring than German, and the timbre is nearer than if it were done in French. Some of this opera sounds strangely bel-canto. However, I doubt, even in the most recommendable Russian recordings if you'll get singing as consistent and exciting as this. Fiorenza Cossotto as the mystical Old-Believer Marfa is in thrilling voice, dark and vivid of timbre, her famous fortune telling aria in Act 2 will raise heckles. Nicolai Ghiaurov is a formidable tyrant as Ivan Khovansky, and Cesare Siepi a venerable, if not particularly inward Dosifei - though I occasionally wondered if the casting might have worked better if the two had swapped roles. Luxury casting in the smaller roles too: the religious fanatic Susanna, a character often cut in her entirety, is played with extreme hysteria and commitment by Elena Suliotis (still in firm voice), no less, Siegmund Nimsgern is menacing as the assassin, Shakloviti, yet sings his Act 3 aria with real legato. The tenors are good too, Veriano Luchetti as a youthful ardent Andrei, and Ludovico Speiss, the Rumanian tenor has great heft and character as the decadent westernized Prince Golitsin. The chorus are full- throated and very secure - there's a thrilling male chorus (again, often cut in performance)in Act 1 that shows their mettle, and even though I've not come across conductor Bogo Leskovitch, he leads a well paced authoritative reading, with great grandeur, and passion that has nothing to fear from comparisons with big names Gergiev and Abbado.So, all this for thirteen dollars. If you know this opera, it should be in your collection."
What a cast!
Aram V. Barsamian | Fullerton, CA United States | 07/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The fact that this Khovanshchina is in Italian and not in Russian deterred me from obtaining this recording for many years. It should not have. Much to my surprise, the Italian did not bother me at all, and I speak Russian.
The great Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov is clearly the most familiar and comfortable with this musical idiom and style. His role is not terribly vocal; he rarely gets to sing anything that resembles an arching bel-canto line. Yet despite this one still gets plenty of opportunities to hear his glorious, sonorous voice pour out generously. In 1973 his voice was in great shape, and even though one hears occasional notes and phrases that foreshadow his vocal decline, he handles the considerable vocal demands of this role masterfully. Of course, his characterization is wonderfully vivid. What a fantastic artist he was!
Cesare Siepi is Dosifei. I have always loved his voice, his noble timbre. It is just right for the role. Unfortunately on this recording his tone is often under-energized and a bit under the pitch. Sometimes he is simply overwhelmed by the tessitura and unable to deliver the dramatic punch necessary in the big confrontation scenes with Galitzin and with Susanna(that becomes even more apparent when one hears the great Nicola Ghiuselev absolutely ROAR in those scenes, on the live recording from Sofia, 1975). However, his aria in Act V is touchingly and beautifully sung.
Veriano Luchetti is quite wonderful as Andrei. It's not an easy role to sing, but he handles the vocal and dramatic demands admirably. Ludovic Spiess' tenor is not as warm as Luchetti's; his timbre is a bit shallow and his vowels are often spread on top. This, however, works well for his unsympathetic character.
Now, Fiorenza Cossotto. Absolutely wonderful! Marfa, I think, is really a contralto role (imagine it sung by Maureen Forester!). It lies very low for most mezzos. And it is not just a matter of tessitura; there is also the issue of registration. Much of the role is written right around the break between chest and middle voice, like the Act III aria, for example. But Cossotto proves herself to be a really intelligent, skilled vocalist here. This is a singer who has sung high mezzo roles, like Eboli and even soprano roles, like Lady Macbeth. Yet she apparently has no problem singing contralto roles like Ulrica and Marfa. She has all the notes, all the way down to low G, and she negotiates the register changes very smoothly and skillfully. Her arias in Act II and III are sung beautifully, but she is most moving in the final scene, with Andrei.
And then talk about luxury casting: Elena Suliotis as Susanna! Marvelous! What a pleasure to hear that glorious sound again! And how wonderful it is to hear her really express the character's fanaticism. The scene between Cossotto and Suliotis is probably my favorite moment on this recording. I know 1973 is late prime for Suliotis, but I assure you, you will not be disappointed by her singing; it's just great!
Sigmund Nimsgern is just perfect for the role of Shaklovity. His voice has just enough "acid" for the character. He sings his deceptively difficult aria quite well, capping it with an impressive high G.
The conductor, orchestra and chorus are quite wonderful. The sound is great, although the immense power of Ghiaurov's voice tends to overwhelm the recording equipment once or twice. Even though the opera acquires a somewhat unusual flavor in Italian, the collaboration of these great artists is something really worth hearing. I'd get it if I were you; I am glad I did."
Viewer | 04/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, I must say that I agree with every word the previous reviewer has written.
Opera d'Oro's packing is minimal - a shallow (not even accurate) synposis of the plot, with only few words about the work (without mentioning which version is it) and not a word about the performance itself;
But these are minor problems compared to this set's qualities:
The singing is tremendous - I have Ghiaurov as Prince Khovansky on Abbado's dvd, and although there he sings with the outmost depth of character he is past his prime and outshone a bit by the younger Burchuladze and Kotcherga.
Here he is at the top of his prime, with a huge voice and already many years of experiece in that role.
The highlight of this production for my ears is Fiorenza Cossotto as Marfa. Her strong chest-voice is perfect for this part, and she puts altogether an outstanding portrayal of a rejected lover and a religious fanatic.
It is the only recording, as far as I know, where she takes part in a russian opera, which is a real pity. She would have made wonders as Marina in Boris godunov.
Siepi's participation is also an interesting one - apparetly, an italien basso has a closer timber to the russian than a german has, and the verdian aproach works out fine.
The orchestral playing is supportive, and is led by a russian conductor, who succesfuly gave those italiens some lessons about the russian tradition.
The singing is in italian, but it doesn't reck the musical line,
and the sound quality is surprizingly good.
It is Shostakovich's orchestration, thank god, and not the musical-distortion made by Rimsky-Korsakov.
For fans of Ghiaurov, Cossotto, and Mussorgsky it's a must-have, and for just music lovers it's a real bargain!"