I sit in the auditorium, on this Monday night, of the spectacular new Winspear Opera House that is now home to a rejuvenated Dallas Opera. Although the company itself, like so many arts organizations these days, is struggling mightily in the budget arena, it has not stopped them from mounting impressive productions and spotlighting new, or underutilized, talent here in America .
The current production (Boris Godunov) that is still in the rehearsal process is a rather old one (1983, I believe) that had its premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Director Stephen Lawless has been with this particular production since its inception and it is quite a pleasure to work with him again, as he is regularly of good humor, calm, and possesses a unique directorial perspective. (FYI, a production of Rigoletto is also rehearsing concurrently and will open just days before Boris.)
I am further thrilled to add a new role (Shuysky) to my repertoire, and am delighted to work again with many friends and colleagues from the past, such as Keith Jameson, Mark McCrory, Meredith Arwady and Susan Nicely. Additionally, I have met several new colleagues, mostly of Russian descent, who more than adequately round out this very fine cast. As most of you know, however, the success of this particular opera ‘stands or collapses’, ‘rises or falls’, and ‘thrills or disappoints’, based almost solely upon the quality of the title character himself. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the Dallas audiences are in for what may be the most galvanizing individual performance of their season, if not that of the last several years.
It is no exaggeration to say that I have stood side by side and worked with the finest, (and in many cases, legendary) Bass voices (and Bass/Baritone voices) in recent operatic history . Rene Pape, Samuel Ramey, Bryn Terfel, Paul Plishka, Matti Salminen, Kurt Moll, Franz-Josef Selig, Stephen Milling, James Morris, and Jan-Hendrik Rootering, just to name a (very impressive) few. I have become a good judge of voices throughout the years, if by association alone; and further believe that I have the right to a few conclusions of my own after so many decades in this industry. Therefore, I must tip my hat to Artistic Director Jonathan Pell who has brought Mikhail Kazakov to Dallas to sing this most intensive and demanding of roles.
Those of you who know me well, would probably concur that I am not a ‘gusher’ when it comes to describing voices, nor am I ever ‘star-stuck’. I, in fact, rather avoid such overage for reasons of propriety and professionalism. I am, however, quick to compliment and support all of my colleagues as we continue to purposefully meander and navigate our paths in this sometimes very unforgiving business. Nevertheless, in this particular case, I may be guilty of ‘gushing’ just a bit…..
From the moment Mr. Kazakov opened his mouth, I knew I was in the presence of greatness–with respect to his vocal gifts, of course. I have (almost) never been so totally overwhelmed by a voice of such rich quality, sensitivity of expression, seemingly limitless volume, and equally impressive ‘pianissimi‘ in this particular vocal ‘fach’. This a major, MAJOR instrument that has been as gifted to him by God, as it was refined by his teachers and coaches. It is also a rarefied experience to become totally transfixed by fine singing AND fine acting from even our finest bassos (again, just my opinion). With respect to this latter attribute, Mr. Kazakov also does not disappoint. His character is clearly (and believably) conflicted and anguished, tormented and tortured, and as haunted as Hamlet in the ‘ghost story’ elements of that Shakespearean masterpiece.
It does not hurt that this composition is sung in the native language of Mr. Kazakov, which helps him to excel as Boris in much the same way that Vladimir Galouzine animates the role of Herman in Pique Dame with his clear and obvious command of the mother tongue. To boot, Mikhail Kazakov is a man of gentle nature and even less ego. His humility is in itself humbling and appreciated among the rest of the cast. It is occasionally a challenge to work with some ‘Eastern Bloc’ singers; but in this case, these large voiced, large bodied, ‘stove-piped-larynx’ singers are all very kind, quick to smile, and eager to ply their trade with considerable stage-craft all.
Boris Godunov is a long and heavy opera, with only a bit of comic respite in the Tavern Scene of Act I, scene II. But those who come and stay for it’s totality will be rewarded, I am quite sure, with an experience that they will not soon forget. Mussorgsky’s music is infectiously majestic, and filled with pathos and triumph. The very clever usage of a single unit set actually assists in amplifying the proceedings. But ultimately it will be Mr. Kazakov’s performance that will carry the evening.
I look forward to potentially hearing from those who may actually see the production to ascertain if their assessments interface with my own unapologetic predictions!