The Operas of Modest Mussorgsky


Modest Mussorgsky wrote two Operas in his tragically short life, Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina.  Of the two, Boris Godunov is the best known, being a historical epic cast in a similar vein to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  Telling the Tale of Boris Godunov, who succeeded the Tsar Fyodor the Bellringer after (perhaps) assassinating the only boy heir, only to be ousted in turn by another pretender to the throne claiming to be the very heir who Godunov had conspired to have murdered.

Boris Godunov exists in four principle forms – the first of 1868 which was rejected by the Tsarist censors and is almost never performed, the second of 1872 which was rewritten by Mussorgsky and is considered the definitive “authentic” version, the third which was rearranged by Mussorgsky’s friend Rimsky-Korsakov after his death to make it align more readily with contemporary international “taste” and the fourth, modern, rearrangement by Shostakovich.  All the different versions have their supporters and detractors and many performances end up being hybrids of the different arrangements, but the prior to the Shostakovich publishing his arrangement in 1960, the Rimsky-Korsakov version was easily the most widely performed.

Khovanshchina by contrast, was not finished at all at the time of Mussorgsky’s death.  Again, it is a historical epic, describing a time during Peter the Greats reign when Russia was nearly torn apart by religious strife and again, Rimsky-Korsakov stepped in to complete the score.  Khovanshchina also had trouble with the censors, this time because of its revolutionary flavour, but ironically this in turn made it popular in post revolutionary Russia.

We have both these landmark pieces of Russian national opera work captured on Decca vinyl boxed sets.  Our Boris Godunov is published in 1972 on the purple Decca SET series.  It is a performance of the Rimsky-Korsakov version performed by the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan.  By contrast, our Khovanshchina is an earlier mono recording from 19555 on the orange and silver LXT label series, this time performed by the Chorus and Orchestra of the National Opera, Belgrade conducted by Kreshimir Baranovich.  Both are in fantastic mint condition.

You can check out the rest of our Modest Mussorgsky catalogue here

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply