The Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov will be Boris Godunov for the opening of Milan's opera season on 7 December 2022.
It will be Abdrazakov's 89th appearance on La Scala's stage and his seventh time singing in the opera to open the season, always on 7 December, the feast day of Saint Ambroise, the city's patron saint.
The Ukrainian Consulate had asked for the opera – the work of the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky – to be replaced, but La Scala has kept the title that had already been programmed several years ago. “I thank La Scala for not cancelling this Russian opera from the season, as is happening in other theatres,” said Abdrazakov. The director, Kasper Holten, added, “In times like these we need more art, not less.”
In an interview with the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Abdrazakov said:
People have to put all their heart into giving something more to people all over the world. I remember the famous passage in which Dostoevsky says that beauty will save the world. Here, I believe that art can save the world.
Churchill said: there is money for soldiers, money for machinery, but why only 0.5% for culture? What are we fighting for then?
[There are various versions of this quote but, sadly, it seems that Churchill did not say it, Ed.]
The 46-year-old singer first came to La Scala in 2001 after winning the Maria Callas prize in Parma, which was transmitted on Italian television.
My left knee was shaking, I remember, when I made my debut in Bellini's La Sonnambula conducted by Maurizio Benini.
Since then he's sung at La Scala with many conductors, including several operas with two of the theatre's musical directors, from Moïse et Pharaon with Riccardo Muti (7 December 2003) to Macbeth with Riccardo Chailly (7 December 2021).
The Italian conductors don't let you get away with anything – they are perfectionists. They all have helped me to create important characters and refine the musicality of each role. When I go on stage I try to enter the role of my character. I always play important roles, from Philip II in Don Carlos to Banco in Macbeth; I have also played Don Giovanni and Leporello, but of the two I prefer the former.
In Boris, first come the words and then the music, whereas in Verdi, for example, Attila [with Chailly in 2018] first the melody and then the libretto. In each of these villains there is a soul that questions them, both in Livermore's Attila and Holten's Boris. In Boris I will be singing with a child next to me, the ghost of the tsarevich, which will allow for interesting reactions on stage. And also, I'm singing in my own language, so today I am the happiest singer in the world.
Mussorgsky prepared his own libretto from Pushkin's play of the same name. The version of Boris Godunov that will be performed at La Scala is the first completed score from 1869 which was not accepted by the Imperial Theatres because of its lack of an important female role. The revised version of 1872 was the first to be staged and it received its first performance in 1874 in Saint Petersburg.
I was the one who brought the score to Chailly when we were performing Attila as I knew that he had been Abbado's assistant in 1979.
Boris Godunov was given its first Italian performance at La Scala in 1909, and Claudio Abbado conducted a memorable production directed by Yuri Lyubimov which opened the season on 7 December 1979. Abbado's assistant Riccardo Chailly, for his ninth season inauguration at La Scala, will conduct the opera for the first time.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.