Boris Godunov (2016)

Modest Mussorgsky’s opera receives a lavishly imaginative interpretation in this production from Bulgaria’s Sofia Opera and Ballet. Director/producer/stage designer Plamen Kartaloff brings the work to an open air setting in front of Sofia’s towering Aleksandr Nevskj Cathedral, and he fills his stage with an opulent parade of grandly costumed figures of the monarchial and religious hierarchies, offering a visual feast worthy of conductor Konstantin Chudovksi’s presentation of Mussorgsky’s towering music.

Martin Tsonev dominates as the conflicted Tsar Boris, providing a physical majesty worthy of a 16th century ruler while detailing a contemporary emotional understanding of the internal and external challenges that torture Boris’ life. As the charlatan that tries to usurp the throne by pretending to be Boris’ murdered son, Kostadin Andreev effectively plumbs the pathetic conniving of his character to create a villain that is both reprehensible yet all-too-human in his desire to steal undeserved authority.

In many ways, the real star of the show is the sacred landmark that serves as the backdrop to Kartaloff’s vision for “Boris Godunov”: as darkness fills the evening air, the cathedral is boldly illuminated and doubles for various Kremlin landmarks that mark the defining moments in Boris’ reluctant rise and harrowing fall – and even the cathedral bells join the orchestral arrangement at key moments.

Now available on DVD, this intelligent and innovative endeavor is, quite simply, a joy to behold.