BORIS GODUNOV • LA SCALA MILANO
REVIEW BORIS GODUNOV LA SCALA: KASPER HOLTEN TRIUMPH IN MILANO
Kasper Holten’s staging of Boris Godunov at La Scala opera house in Milan is a triumph on a grand scale.
An insanely beautiful set frames Musorgsky’s beautiful operatic drama about the rise and fall of Boris Godunov in the Russian Tsar era, where danger and betrayal lurk everywhere.
A bloody end to the dance around the pinnacle of power is inevitable as the conspiracy manifests itself and Boris, on the brink of collapse, is stabbed to death by his own people.
Ildar Abdrazakov is excellent in the title role. So is Ain Anger as the conspiratorial monk Pimen, who drives the action forward in a humiliating manner.
But it’s Musorgsky’s superb music, conducted by star conductor Riccardo Chailly, along with Holten’s assured staging, Es Devlin’s voluminous set design and Ida Marie Ellekilde’s splendid costumes, that win the day.
The music is Wagnerian heavy, and yet not – though the baritone-dominated cast, and the plot’s dark underpinnings, make up for much in the absence of a sustaining, bright prima donna role.
From start to finish one enjoys Musorgsky’s melodious, effective composition, which renewed Russian music in the Romantic period.
He is perhaps best known for Pictures At An Exibition, a collected epic of 10 technically demanding piano pieces.
The orchestral version is popular but actually created by Ravel, as Musorgsky had a nasty habit of not getting up to work.
He took the Russian people’s obsession with macho drunkenness quite seriously, and sadly died at the age of 42 from a little very too much vodka.
Back in Milan, the Scala opera chorus is roaring strong, blowing the audience right back into the velvet seat, especially in the first act’s grand coronation ceremony, which is a brilliant display of opera when the genre is executed in full.
In short, the experience is magnificent.
Holten has played the safe cards, without wild, arty experiments or political provocations in his performance, probably also to ensure painless reception by a wide, international audience.
The premiere is said to have been seen by 1.5 million people via livestreaming, so I think it’s appropriate to bet heavily on a visually attractive production.
Impressive video projections mix with giant fragments of ancient Russian atlases floating in the stage space, creating a three-dimensional interior architecture that keeps on giving. Maps in giant format have always been among the favourite images of power.
That the singing cast is top-notch across the board seems superfluous to mention. The fact that Holten has taken various liberties in his take on the classic that I couldn’t see through myself was pointed out but quickly forgiven by several visiting opera connoisseurs I toasted after the performance.
In short, it’s a perfect night here in perhaps Europe’s most prestigious opera house, which has a special history with Godunov performances over the years.
If one were to translate the whole thing into film lingo, I’d say Holten has committed a Spielberg. Godunov is opera in wildly beautiful production with an audience-friendly DNA that both has nerve and whets the appetite for more.
Well done by Denmark’s Kasper – and since Schmeichel didn’t succeed, it’s good that Holten could deliver some Danish success, here during the Soccer World Cup. A bit of national feeling, one is allowed to have. Five stars from Det Sku’ Du Se.
MILANO QUICK TIPS
On the corner opposite La Scala you’ll find Voce, a fairly new, designer-smart theatre cafe/restaurant that’s not without its talents.
One of three eateries named after the likeable chefs Aimo & Nadia, who have been the focal point of Italian gourmet cuisine for 50 years.
The jewel in the crown is Il Luogo, which has two Michelin stars and is a little out of the centre, as Michelin top restaurants tend to do if they want to be cool.
I opted for the Autumn Journey menu, which offered interesting items such as anchovy on lemon foam, fish tartare as a hot dog in chickpea crackers, stuffed octopus with jam, Brussels sprouts in chestnut cream and mini risotto with white truffle.
Most exciting was the chocolate-covered chicken liver – an unexpected stroke of genius.
On the whole, though, I don’t think Luogo lives up to its two stars.
The food was innovative, yes – but each serving was so contrived in preparation and combination of ingredients that the self-sufficiency got the better of me and the experience, as a meal, became a little odd.
Instead, I recommend the more humble Papá Francesco 50 metres from Scala, which is classically Italian and open after theatre hours.
If you want to enter the famous arcade with access to the Duomo, you can dine at the Galleria where I was joined by the top soloists from the evening’s performance. The food is ok without being flashy, but the place is lively and has the celebrity factor.
Orcia, a little way away, is a cool all-round eatery that sets itself up as a mozzarella bar, among other things. One of the starters is a ‘mozzarella tasting’, which mostly confirms how bland mozzarella is without tomato, basil and olive oil.
My beetroot spaghetti with prawns was beautiful, but the prawns were strangely floury and I left half out. Only good Negroni and the gaudy interior saved the visit.
The shopping scene in Milan seems somewhat devalued. The area around the Duomo has soul but is dominated by exactly the same international brands and shops that you’ll find everywhere else.
Globalisation has made the world smaller, not bigger. Ask for a napkin at the rooftop bar of La Rinacente department store, with wild views of the cathedral.