OP2688. KHOVANSCHINA (Moussorgsky), recorded 1953, w.Nebolsin Cond. Bolshoi Opera Ensemble; Mark Reizen, Maria Maksakova, Alexei Ivanov, Alexei Krivchenya, Nikandr Khanaev, Grigori Bolshakov, etc.; KHOVANSCHINA – Excerpts, recorded 1939 from Gramplasstrest tone-film, w.Lev Steinberg Cond. Bolshoi Theatre Ensemble; Vasilly Lubentsov, Maria Maksakova, Alexei Ivanov, Dmitri Marchenkov, Sergei Koltypin, etc. (Russia) 3-Aquarius AQVR 370. - 4607123631355
“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.
Certainly one of the most sonorous, expressive and beautifully-controlled bass voices ever to have been recorded was that of Mark Reizen. He was a legend in his own lifetime in Russia and, at the age of 90, he was still able to make a remarkable stage appearance, singing Prince Gremin in EUGEN ONÉGIN….one of the greatest bass singers of the 20th century.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2010
“A superb singer and powerful actor with a highly expressive, rich voice of astonishing color and range, [Reizen’s] forte was legendary, but he also had a pianissimo so expressive it could stop a rehearsal to allow Natalia Shpiller singing opposite him to regain her composure, while the rest of the cast were drying their eyes.”
- Richard D. Sylvester, TCHAIKOVSKY’S COMPLETE SONGS
“In 1919 Maksakova made her début as Olga in EVGENY ONÉGIN. In the autumn the baritone Max Maksakov arrived at the theater as a new director (and soloist) and gave her several new roles. Much admiring her gift, the maestro was still critical of her technique, so she went to Petrograd for further studying. There she met Glazunov who recognized a lyric soprano in her and opted for a return, to ask Maksakov for private lessons. The two became close, he proposed, and in 1920 they married, forming a sparkling duet on stage. In 1923 Maria Maksakova came to Moscow, débuted (as Amneris) substituting Obukhova, who fell ill, and was instantly invited to join the ensemble.
In 1925 Maksakova moved to Leningrad's Mariinsky Theatre. In 1927 she returned to Bolshoi, where she continued to work as a leading soloist until her retirement 1953. In those years she sang virtually all the leading female roles in the Mariinsky's classic repertoire. Maksakova was one of the first Soviet artists who were allowed in the mid-1930s to perform abroad, giving successful concerts in Turkey and Poland, later Sweden and (after the war) East Germany.
In 1944 Maksakova won the 1st Prize at the Russian Folk song competition held by the Arts Committee of the USSR. In 1946 she was awarded her first Stalin Prize ‘for outstanding achievents in opera and the performing arts’. Two more were to come, in 1949 and 1951.
In 1953 Maksakova retired or, rather, was informed of her retirement which came as an unpleasant surprise for a singer who had kept herself in superb shape, both physically and artistically. Rumours had it that some people at the Bolshoi found it safe to settle old scores now that Stalin, her much-feared patron, was now dead; specifically, the name of Vera Davydova, another famous Soviet soprano, has been mentioned. ‘Our relations were pure and friendly, each respected and valued what the other was doing on stage’, Davydova maintained."
“Certainly Khanaev’s career is worthy of a long overdue consideration, as his importance as an artist has not been so easily recognised in the West, mainly because his recordings are rarely found as they were not distributed in the same volume as those of Kozlovsky and Lemeshev….For admirers of the Russian tenor voice and a singer who deserves to be better appreciated, this...is a ‘must’.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2011
“Vassili Vassilyevich Nebolsin (30 May 1898 – 29 October 1958) was a Russian conductor. He studied at the college of the Moscow Philharmonic and became conductor of the orchestra in 1918. He became choir master of the Bolshoi in 1920 and its conductor in 1922. He taught at the Moscow Conservatory from 1940 to 1945. The Stalin Prize was awarded him in 1950.”
- Z. D. Akron