OP1735. KHOVANSCHINA (Moussorgsky), Live Performance, 14 June, 1958, w.Rodzinski Cond. RAI Ensemble, Roma; Boris Christoff, Mario Petri, Amedeo Berdini, Mirto Picchi, Michele Malaspina, Irene Companez, etc. (E.U.) 2–Myto 00158. - 8014399501583
“KHOVANSCHINA is an opera in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources. The opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.
Like Mussorgsky's earlier BORIS GODUNOV, KHOVANSCHINA deals with an episode in Russian history, first brought to the composer's attention by his friend Vladimir Stasov. It concerns the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers, and the Streltsy against Peter the Great, who was attempting to institute Westernizing reforms to Russia. Peter succeeded, the rebellion was crushed and (in the opera, at least) Khovansky's followers committed mass suicide.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored KHOVANSCHINA in 1881–1882. Because of his extensive cuts and ‘recomposition’, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky's vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev's request. When Feodor Chaliapin refused to sing the part of Dosifei in any other orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov's, Diaghilev's company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky's finale, which is still used.
Although the setting of the opera is the Moscow Uprising of 1682, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Tsar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter's westernizing reforms. It received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition in 1886.
Though not as well known as BORIS GODUNOV, this opera is, in some ways, more accessible. The pace of the action is slow, but there is more in the way of traditional vocal writing compared to the earlier opera's use of a more speech-like style. The plot of KHOVANSCHINA is difficult to follow, but the story is grittier and the characters are more believable. There are also some fiery set-pieces, in particular the ‘Dance of the Persian Slaves’ and the spectacular mass suicide of the Old Believers in the final scene. KHOVANSCHINA is not seen on stage often outside Russia.”
- Ned Ludd
“Amedeo Berdini, possessor of a voice of real weight, coupled with a warm timbre, was a true lirico spinto, whose mentor, Gigli, opened the way to what seemed destined to be a great career. This tragically was cut short by his early death at the age of 44. Arias from Pietri’s Maristella, Catalani’s Loreley, Gomes’ Salvator Rosa and Lo Schiavo, and a passionate Madama Butterfly love duet with Pina Malgarini will impress by their commitment and highly-compelling interpretations.”
- Alan Bilgora, A NEW GOLDEN AGE OF FORGOTTEN TENORS
"...there is the beauty of the voice itself, black and majestic, but capable of melting to the warmest of velvet; a voice that can damn and bless within the same breath. Add to all this a magnificent sense of presence and in Boris Christoff we have a true mastersinger of our time."
- Michael Letchford, Liner Notes to HMV LP set
“Artur Rodzinski was born in Split, the capital of Dalmatia on 1 January, 1892. In Vienna, his teachers included Josef Marx and Franz Schreker (composition), Franz Schalk (conducting), and Emil von Sauer and Jerzy Lalewicz (piano). He returned to Lwów where he was engaged as chorus master at the Opera House, making his début as a conductor in 1920 with Verdi's ERNANI. The following year saw him conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and at the Warsaw Opera House. While visiting Poland, Leopold Stokowski heard Rodzinski leading a performance of Wagner's DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG and exclaimed ‘I have found that rare thing, a born conductor!’ and invited him to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Between 1925 and 1929 he served as Stokowski's assistant, conducted for the Philadelphia Grand Opera and directed the opera and orchestral departments at the Curtis Institute of Music. From 1929 to 1933, Rodzinski became the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, garnering praise not only for his interpretations but for his innovative programming. From 1933 to 1943, he was music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, developing it into one of the foremost orchestras in America. He engaged new musicians and raised the playing standards to a very high level. His programs were innovative, offering works such as the first performance in America of Shostakovich's opera LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT, which gained the orchestra national attention. Between December 1939 and February 1942, Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra made an extensive series of recordings for the Columbia Records label. During this time he appeared with the New York Philharmonic in 1934 and 1937, when his concert performance of Richard Strauss' ELEKTRA aroused great enthusiasm. Rodzinski was also active in Europe, becoming the first naturalized American citizen to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and 1937. At Arturo Toscanini's recommendation, Rodzinski was engaged by NBC to select the musicians for the new NBC Symphony Orchestra. He rigorously trained the orchestra and conducted its first concerts in 1937, before the arrival of Toscanini.
Rodzinski was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1943. Though his four-year tenure was marked by considerable acrimony with Arthur Judson, the powerful manager of the orchestra, Rodzinski achieved high standards of performance. The renowned music critic and composer Virgil Thomson wrote about Rodzinski's tenure at the Philharmonic: ‘We now have an orchestra that is a joy to hear...and we owe it all to Artur Rodzinski’." During Rodzinski's time on the podium the Philharmonic recorded extensively, again for Columbia, performed weekly live broadcasts on CBS Radio, and appeared in the feature film CARNEGIE HALL.
Despite, however, the quality of the orchestra's performances, numerous artistic matters such as the prerogative of the music director to dismiss musicians, select soloists and determine repertoire were persistent grounds of contention. Not willing to compromise on these matters, Rodzinski resigned in 1947. His reputation as a conductor was so prominent at this time that his resignation was the subject of a cover story in TIME MAGAZINE in February 1947. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had been wooing Rodzinski for some time and now he decided to immediately accept the leadership of that orchestra starting with the 1947-1948 season. Here again, an inability to work with the board resulted in his swift departure after only one season. His short tenure still had a significant impact upon the orchestra and local audiences through performances such as a legendary account of Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE with Kirsten Flagstad.
After his departure from Chicago, Rodzinski's health began to deteriorate. There was little recording activity available to him in the U.S. and he settled in Europe once more. Here, his status as a major musician was recognized and he was invited to lead significant productions, such as the 1953 first performance of Prokofiev's WAR AND PEACE at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, as well as traditional repertoire works. He conducted at La Scala and also worked extensively for Italian radio, conducting well received readings of Wagner's TANNHÄUSER and TRISTAN, and Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV and KHOVANSHCHINA. He re-established his presence as a recording artist through a contract with Westminster Records, for whom he recorded extensively with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London from 1955. His final recordings were for EMI in 1958. By this time Rodzinski's health was fragile. He was warned by his Italian doctor that further conducting activity would put his life at risk. However, he returned to Chicago in 1958 to conduct TRISTAN once again, this time with the Chicago Lyric Opera and soprano Birgit Nilsson. His return was a triumph, but these were his last performances and he died shortly afterwards.”
- Ned Ludd