Vsevolod Meyerhold, costumed as Ivan the Terrible
"I was fairly stunned and I continue to be stunned," said Simon Morrison, an associate professor of music at Princeton, who is writing a book on Prokofiev and excavated Meyerhold's notes in 2005 from a sealed section of the Russian archive to which he managed to get access. "This is one of the scores that he composed in the '30s when he was at the top of his game, and it went to waste. He never heard it in his lifetime."The Mussorgsky opera is a favorite, but it would certainly be worthwhile to see and hear Prokofiev's take on the story. For another view of the Boris Godunov story, pre-Pushkin, see my post on Johann Mattheson's 1710 opera on the story of Boris Godunov, staged in Boston two years ago.
"Godunov" ran afoul of politics long before Prokofiev and Meyerhold got hold of it. The play, which tells the story of the 16th-century tyrannical czar Boris Godunov and Dmitry, a monk who pretends to be the true heir to the throne, "is very seditious," said Caryl Emerson, chairwoman of Princeton's Slavic Languages and Literature Department, who is overseeing the project with Morrison. Although Pushkin is close to a national saint in Russia, his 1825 work was not published until 1831 and not performed until 1866. This production is the first time all 25 scenes that Pushkin wrote are being performed together, Emerson said. "It combines three geniuses of Russian culture: Pushkin, Prokofiev and Meyerhold, the poet, the composer and the stage director," she said. [...]
Modest Mussorgsky used Pushkin as a source for his fabulously successful opera "Boris Godunov." But Prokofiev and Meyerhold were contemptuous of what they considered to be Mussorgsky's thick, syrupy, optimistic and romantic score. Meyerhold, for example, envisioned the final scene with a choral sound for the crowd that is "dark, agitated, menacing, like the roar of the sea." "One should feel a gathering of forces, the restraining of an internal rage," Meyerhold wrote. Mussorgsky offered a 19th-century sound, Morrison said, while "Prokofiev was the first to get at the 20th-century sound." Meyerhold gave Prokofiev detailed instructions about what kind of orchestral and choral music he wanted. Those notes, along with Prokofiev's manuscript, descriptions of the work in various memoirs and Meyerhold's rehearsal transcripts guided this production.