Very long applause, over 13 minutes, with the throwing of flowers on the stage (and no whistle from the gallery), paid homage to the Premiere of the Russian opera Boris Godunov by Modest Musorgsky which this evening inaugurated the 2022/23 Opera Season of the Teatro at the Scala in Milan. An ovation for the superlative Ildar Abdrazakov, the Russian bass who played the main protagonist, the tsar of all the Russias, at his sixth La Scala premiere.
The rest of the cast was also admired: Ain Anger (Pimen), Stanislav Trofimov (Varlaam), Dmitry Golovnin (Grigorij Otrepev) and Norbert Ernst (Šujskij), Lilly Jørstad (Fëdor). The direction of maestro Riccardo Chailly and the direction of Kasper Holten were much appreciated, the latter supported by the suggestive scenography designed by Es Devlin, and by the sumptuous costumes created by Ida Marie Ellekilde, immersed in a dark atmosphere cloaked by the lights of Jonas Bǿgh and by video by Luke Halls.
The 25th Scala performance of the masterpiece of Russian opera was a triumph, which symbolically swept away even the (few, in truth) controversies of the eve: according to the Ukrainian embassy in Italy it would have been, in fact, inappropriate in this period to represent a work centered on a tsar greedy for power. “With Boris Godunov we are presenting a masterpiece of art history, it doesn’t mean that it is an endorsement of Russian politics, they are different things,” said superintendent Dominique Meyer in the Foyer before the performance of the work.
The curtain rose at 6 pm, with the Theater packed with music lovers from all over the world and a crowd of institutional personalities and VIPs like never before in the history of the Prima della Scala, the 71st since maestro Victor de Sabata decided that the inauguration of the opera season would have taken place on the day of Sant’Ambrogio, patron saint of Milan.
The majestic and sumptuous Boris Godunov, performed under the admirable baton of maestro Chailly in the first version in seven scenes (the so-called Ur-Boris), presented by Modest Musorgsky at the Imperial Theaters of St. Petersburg in 1869, was preceded by the performance of Italian national anthem and from the European one: all the audience standing for the Italian anthem by Goffredo Mameli and the Ode to Joy by Beethoven.
Starting from the royal box with the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, once again repeatedly and at length acclaimed (for him 4 minutes of applause upon entering the room), accompanied by his daughter Laura, with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, making her debut in the temple of world opera (the co-presence of the head of government and the head of state is also exceptional, which is almost unique in the history of ceremonial, without prejudice to the Before 2011 with the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano and the then new Prime Minister Mario Monti). Furthermore, in the royal box, the president of the Senate, Ignazio La Russa, the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, and the president of the Lombardy Region, Attilio Fontana.
Among the government presences were the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, the Minister of Enterprise and Made in Italy, Adolfo Urso, the Minister of Reforms, Maria Elisabetta Casellati, the Minister of University and Research, Anna Maria Bernini. Due to the large institutional presence, the interval was extended by ten minutes in order to allow all the illustrious guests to go and greet the conductor Riccardo Chailly. A representation of La Scala workers has delivered a letter against the cuts to culture to President Mattarella.
As always, the Prima della Scala attracted numerous personalities from the worlds of entertainment, culture, the economy and civil society, for what is one of the most glamorous events ever. The world of cinema was represented by the director Luca Guadagnino and by the actors Stefano Accorsi, Fabrizio Gifuni, Sonia Bergamasco and by Rocío Muñoz Morales, godmother of the last Venice Film Festival, while for pop music the presence of the singer-songwriter Morgan stood out.
Among the representatives of culture the writer Alessandro Baricco, the Slavists Fausto Malcovati and Cesare De Michelis, the publisher Luca Formenton (il Saggiatore), the CEO of Adelphi Roberto Colaianni, the superintendent of the Pinacoteca di Brera, James Bradburne, the architects Stefano Boeri , president of the Triennale, Mario Botta and Italo Rota. The world of theater was represented by the director of the Piccolo Claudio Longhi and by the director and director of the ‘Franco Parenti’ Andrée Ruth Shammah and by the set designer Margherita Palli. The fashion world saw the presence of Roberta Armani, granddaughter of the great Giorgio. Senator for life Liliana Segre was among the regulars of the Prima.
The chairman Marinella Soldi and the managing director Carlo Fuortes were in the room for Rai. Among the guests also the president of the Bocconi University and former prime minister Mario Monti together with his successor Andrea Sironi, the former ambassador Sergio Romano, the president of Vidas, the journalist Ferruccio De Bortoli, and the dean of Verona journalists, Natalia Aspesi.
The presence of superintendents of European musical institutions was particularly dense: Alexander Neef of the Paris Opéra, Joan Matabosch of Real Madrid, Elisabeth Sobotka, appointed to the Berlin Staatsoper from 2024, Valenti Oviedo of the Liceu of Barcelona, Thomas Angyan historic artistic director of the Musikverein. Among the Italians Alexander Pereira of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Fortunato Ortombina of the Fenice, Michele dall’Ongaro of Santa Cecilia, Claudio Orazi of the Carlo Felice, Fulvio Macciardi of the Comunale di Bologna as well as the former superintendent of the Scala Carlo Fontana.
Lastly, La Scala wanted to underline the emergence of new personalities in the corps de ballet by now known to the general public by inviting its Principal Dancers to the Premiere: Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko, Martina Arduino and Marco Agostino, and Alice Mariani (prima ballerina from a few months), as well as the star Roberto Bolle, always present at the premieres, and Beppe Menegatti, who returned to the theater after the death of his wife, the great dancer Carla Fracci.
Recurring title of the Verona seasons since the Italian premiere of 1909 commissioned by Arturo Toscanini (but directed by Edoardo Vitale), directed among others by Toscanini himself but also by Guarnieri, Votto, Gavazzeni and Gergiev, Boris Godunov opened the Verona season for the second time after the memorable edition directed by Claudio Abbado in 1979 and directed by Juri Ljubimov. The version chosen by Chailly was the primitive one which dismayed contemporaries for its innovative and realistic traits both from a dramaturgical and musical point of view and which focuses on the theme of individual guilt and its inevitable consequences. A dark story, re-read today as a metaphor, where conscience opposes power and the force of truth fights against censorship.
The drama opens in 1598: Tsar Fyodor has died, guards and priests exhort the people to pray that the boyar Boris Godunov agree to ascend the throne. Finally, the coronation takes place in the square of the Kremlin cathedrals in an imposing ceremony, however disturbed by some riots. In a cell of the Chudov monastery, the elderly monk Pimen is about to finish his chronicle of the events in Russia. The chronicle will report the truth about the assassination of Tsarevich Dimitri, the legitimate heir to the throne, perpetrated on Boris’s orders.
Pimen narrates the crime to the novice Grigory, who, being the same age as the Tsarevich, decides to pass himself off as him to lead a revolt against Boris to seize the throne. Grigorij takes refuge in Poland avoiding arrest by crossing the border with Lithuania. The last scenes narrate events that happened in 1604: the children of Boris, Xenia and Fëdor have grown up; the Tsar now governs a country exhausted by famine in which discontent is spreading among the people and rumors about the regicide committed are multiplying, while the rebel forces led by Grigory are pressing at the borders. Haunted by the tsarevich’s ghost, Boris Godunov loses his mind and dies after a last exhortation to his son Fyodor.
(by Paolo Martini and Federica Mochi)