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Monday, 3 June 2013

At the opera

Wednesday, June 3rd., Villa des Nefliers, Fontainebleau.

Paris yesterday, upon Calvo's invitation to see "Boris Godounoff" at the opera. Very Fine. Especially chorus and general completeness of production. Impression left of the barbaric quality of Russia; and its intense earnestness in art also. As to the composition, assuredly great. No close construction in it, its construction must certainly have been a matter of haphazard - I don't care what anyone says to the contrary; made one feel the unimportance of great skill in construction. Look at the haphazard way in which all Goethe's things were constructed. Uncanny effect of seeing suddenly a masterpiece of which one had scarcely heard and of which one knew nothing, and yet which was written in 1874 or published then.

Boris Godunov is an opera by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881). The work was composed between 1868 and 1873 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. Its subjects are the Russian ruler Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar (1598 to 1605) during the Time of Troubles, and his nemesis, the False Dmitriy (reigned 1605 to 1606). The Russian-language libretto was written by the composer, and is based on the "dramatic chronicle" Boris Godunov by Aleksandr Pushkin, and, in the Revised Version of 1872, on Nikolay Karamzin's History of the Russian State. The composer created two versions—the Original Version of 1869, which was rejected for production by the Imperial Theatres, and the Revised Version of 1872, which received its first performance in 1874 in Saint Petersburg. Boris Godunov has seldom been performed in either of the two forms left by the composer, frequently being subjected to cuts, recomposition, re-orchestration, transposition of scenes, or conflation of the original and revised versions. However, Mussorgsky's individual harmonic style and orchestration are now valued for their originality, and revisions by other hands have fallen out of fashion. Boris Godunov comes closer to the status of a repertory piece than any other Russian opera, and is the most recorded Russian opera.

I went 'behind' afterwards with Calvo. After all the romance of the organisation of these affairs interests me quite as much as the art work. Vast stage. Not well agence. I went to see the foyer de la dance; got it lighted up specially for me. Most disappointing. Quite small with the end wall one vast mirror. Piffling, compared to its traditions. I should say not more than 30 feet long. Sloping floor: curious the effect of the rail put in front of the seats, against the walls. Of course it is for the danseuses to hold onto while they practise their postures. But it seems as if it was to keep the abonne admirers from touching the girls. Similar effect to that of the grilles behind which sit Arabs whores' in Algeria. Eminently suitable to the character of the room.

Chaliapine was great and profound. Calvo introduced us afterwards, on the stage. I hate these introductions, but I was glad to go through the tedium of this one. A very tall man with a noble bearing and a fine face. He is undoubtedly a sublime artist.

Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) is perhaps the most legendary operatic bass in history. Possessed of a large and beautiful voice, he devoted himself to all aspects of his art -- most significantly his dramatic portrayals -- at a time when such things were not at all typical of singers. Chaliapin was born the son of Russian peasants and was apprenticed to a cobbler at the age of 10. However, a brief engagement with a touring opera and a fortuitous meeting with his first voice teacher, Dimitri Usatov (both during his teen years), alerted the young singer to the true extent of his musical potential. In 1894, Chaliapin sang in St. Petersburg and soon was accepted at the Imperial Opera. In 1907, the bass made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Boito's Mefistofele, and later that season sang both Gounod's Faust (Mefistophele) and Mozart's Don Giovanni (Leporello). In 1908, Chaliapin began his close association with Diaghilev in Paris, where many famous productions of Russian operas were staged. In 1914, he returned to Russia and stayed until after World War I and the Great Revolution. In 1922, he immigrated to France, which remained his home for the remainder of his life. Chaliapin appeared in nearly all of the great opera houses of  the world. He was a large man with great dramatic flair, and he could portray any type of character. He was a master of makeup, and he used this skill to help create his characters. His voice was wide ranging, allowing him to sing baritone roles like Eugene Onegin as well as bass roles like Oroveso. When he immigrated to Paris, he fell out of favour with the Russian government, but his native country's official posture toward him warmed when it became apparent that he was bringing Russian opera to people all over the world. His art is preserved on his many recordings made between 1901 and 1935 which document his wide ranging repertoire. Without his performances of Boris Godunov, the opera would probably not have had the enduring popularity that it has subsequently enjoyed.

Much wandering about behind scenes after the performance. Inexpressibly tedious. The Calvos and we had drinks on the terrasse of Julien's. I was too exhausted to be intelligent. Bedroom in the hotel where every noise could be heard. Impossible to sleep. When I heard an alarm clock go off in the midst of these multitudinous sounds, that struck me as that rare thing, a really humorous phenomenon

I was out at 8 a.m. today. certainly what interests me is organisation. Outside the Magasins du Louvre, the despatch of thousands of parcels in dozens of vans was in full swing. A great effect. When I returned, in less than an hour, everything had gone. At 8.25 the interior of the shop was in going order, and well sprinkled with customers. The employees had a strange un-tired air.

I had the good luck to get a first ed. of Becque's "Les Corbeaux" at Stock's for 4 frs. Tresse was the original publisher. They said it was their last copy. It ought to be fairly rare. I also bought what I had been wanting for some weeks, Forel's "La Questionne Sexuelle". Also an album of Modes, 1830-1870, extremement interessant, and most useful at this exact moment for "Old Wives' Tale".

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