“Boris Godunov” M. P. Musorgskogo
(opera postavlena 27 ianvaria 1874 g.)
Boris Godunov by M. P. Musorgsky
(Opera staged January 27, 1874)
Eduard Napravnik (1839-1916) was a composer and a conductor. From 1863 to 1916 he was the conductor with the Mariinskii Theater. This excerpt is from his notebooks.
. . .
Musorgsky—one of the members of the Russian circle (“The Mighty Handful”) stood out from this group of comrades because of his originality. He had great natural gifts and was antagonistic toward any formal training; he was almost a musical illiterate. He had a realistic and revolutionary approach to music; nonetheless, at all times and places, he was true to his own genius. In his work as well as in Dargomyzhsky’s, the text and the music constituted one, inseparable unity, a rare occurrence among operatic composers—especially in the recitatives in the folk scenes and in the scenes with the lead singers. Had he followed Rimsky-Korsakov’s example and enthusiastically studied elementary theory, harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation, and so forth, one can only imagine what talented works he would have created in operatic literature! His irregular, careless life-style and his reluctance to work assiduously were the main factors which prevented him from achieving such success. His abnormal life-style shortened his brief span of years. He died at the age of forty-two, in 1881, in the Nikolaev Military Hospital, where in view of his lack of means, charitable souls found him shelter and a job as an orderly. The bass I[van] A[leksandrovich] Mel’nikov, who at that time was performing the part of Tsar Boris beautifully, and I visited him there more than once.
I was saddened and pained as I watched this talented jewel waste away. I used to meet him often at the house of the Petrovs—Osip Afanasievich was a famous bass of the Russian opera, and his wife, the contralto Anna Iakovlevna, was an artist with the same company. They were the first to perform Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar in 1836 and Ruslan and Ludmila in 1842. At their place, Musorgsky played all his vocal compositions and sang masterfully in his hoarse voice. It was only thanks to his friend Rimsky-Korsakov that Musorgsky’s operas were put in immaculate order, i.e., shaped up and orchestrated. It was in Rimsky-Korsakov’s version that Boris was staged and was an unquestioned success. It has been revived, and lately F[yodor] I[vanovich] Shaliapin, with his masterful rendition of Boris, has pushed it into the foreground.1