I went to the opera Saturday.
No, not actually at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City -- even better: at a comfy local theater in comfy clothes for twenty bucks and no cab fare or high heels or any of that.
It was great.
But it was unexpected, so I was totally unprepared: I didn't know a thing about Modest Mussorgsky's only opera, one of the world's most challenging operas to stage. The opera was Boris Godunov.
(Photo of Boris Badenov stolen from this guy)
No no no, not that guy -- although I'll be the first to admit I had thoughts of moose and squerrrrrel running through my head the whole time -- no, Boris Godunov.
What, you haven't heard of it? Well, I'll tell you about it.
It ran over four hours. I hardly noticed that time had passed.
The titular role was portrayed by the great German bass René Pape (one of the few lead performers who had to learn Russian for this opera, since most of the other singers' names ended in -enko or -ov). He is my new secret boyfriend.
(Poster stolen from these guys)
Boris played pretty hard to get about being the new tsar back at the turn of the 17th century, but after a lot of shouting, begging, and threatening, he finally caved. "All right, all right, I'll be the tsar and live in that big ol' palace and wear this fine bear skin robe," he said. At least, I think that's what he said. I don't speak Russian or German.
Turns out the reason he didn't want to be the tsar was because he had played some dirty tricks to get nominated -- like killing a child -- and now he was having a bummer day over it. A few other people were having a bummer day over it, too, like The World's Oldest 35-Year-Old-17-Year-Old, Grigoriy (alias the heir to the throne Tsarevich Dmitriy, and "The Pretender," but that will just confuse you so try to forget it). Grigoriy has convinced himself he was really Tsar Ivan the Terrible's son and somehow repressed the memory, I guess, although how you could repress a name like Dmitriy Terrible is just beyond me. So he was pretty much faking that he was the murdered child and started that whole "secretly a murdered royal" trend in Russia.
(Photo of Semenchuk and Antonenko stolen from these guys)
Grigoriy The Faker sneaks off to Lithuania and Poland to stir up trouble and find some rabble-rousers. He takes up with Princess Marina, who is actually one of The Judds, I think.
(Photo of The Judds stolen from these guys)
Grigoriy The Faker convinces Princess Judd that he's the legitimate heir to the Russian throne and that she will be the Tsarina when they get back to Moscow. Princess Judd just fell for the second-oldest pick-up line in the book, right after "is it hot in here or is it just you?"
We meet two crazy people in this story in Act I, and there are three or more brutal murders in Act IV. Serious, devastating stuff, right? But Act III totally confused me -- I'm pretty sure the feed was switched at the start of Act III and we were picking up some old "Falcon Crest" or "Dallas" re-runs, because it was all kissy-kissy declarations of love and lust and whaaaaa? Sexy flirting in Poland while there's blood and crazy in the Kremlin? What was THAT all about? But Act IV got right back to blood and crazy in a big way. Those Russians know a good epic tragedy when they write one.
Speaking of blood and crazy -- meanwhile, back at the Kremlin, Tsar Boris is several blini short of a пикник and his cool rock-and-roll hair is starting to look kind of Kathleen Turner on him.
(Photo of Kathleen Turner stolen from this site)
Tsar Boris is as nutty as a fruitcake, he sees dead people everywhere he looks, and he's not long for this world.
(Original photo of René Pape stolen from these guys)
I'll stop here, without even elaborating about the marvelous singing -- three basses in one opera? WOW -- the spare but effective set design, the 600 costumes, Princess Judd necking with a priest, two live horses on the stage, the man in the tin foil hat, and the fact that Grigoriy looked just like My Gay Ex-Boyfriend. You can't make this stuff up, people. I could go on and ruin the story for you, but I won't. Click a link to read more, and be as surprised as I was to learn that not only was the brilliant story originally written by Alexander Pushkin, but it's also true. Darn those Russians, they have all the best stories.
Please try to attend one of The Metropolitan Opera's HD simulcasts at your local theater this year. (I'm planning to see two or three more.) I promise you won't regret it.