When Musorgsky revised his opera Boris Godunov in 1871–72 as a condition for its eventual performance in 1874, he made many changes that went far beyond what the Imperial Theaters demanded of him. Among these changes was the composition of a crowd scene outside Moscow, in which the rebellious populace hails the Pretender, to replace a crowd scene at Red Square in which a submissive, hungry crowd begs Boris for bread. The original scene came, like the rest of the libretto, directly from Pushkin's eponymous play. The new scene reflected a new view of the historical events, and Musorgsky wrote his own text for it. The two scenes are ideologically at odds, particularly as regards their view of the Russian nation in relation to the Russian people. Moreover, the two scenes share the episode of the Holy Fool and the thieving boys, which Musorgsky transferred from the one score to the other. Obviously, Musorgsky regarded them as incompatible within a single production and thought he had made conflating them impossible. And yet, at the Bolshoy Theater, beginning in 1927, the two scenes have indeed been played that way, inconsistencies and redundancies be damned. The Bolshoy production of 1939 (which became widely known and influential through recordings and film) might be written off, the way we tend to write off the art of the Stalinist era, as a politically motivated anomaly. But many other productions and most recordings since 1948 have included both scenes without any such evident motivation, indicating that the Bolshoy production is now regarded as canonical. Is the historiographical contradiction involving the theme of the conference at which this article was first presented (“Opera and Nation,” Budapest 2010) to be regarded as a blemish? If not, what considerations can be seen to outweigh it? Can Musorgsky's political ideas be deduced from the work in which we assume they are embodied? And if they can be, should they be regarded as an aspect of the work that performers need respect?
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Research Article| April 01 2011
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Richard Taruskin; Crowd, Mob, and Nation in Boris Godunov: What Did Musorgsky Think, and Does It Matter?. Journal of Musicology 1 April 2011; 28 (2): 143–165. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2011.28.2.143
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