Boris Godunov, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Boris Godunov, Lyric Opera of Chicago
The premiere of “Boris Godunov” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago became a smashing
success. Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title part of haunted Russian czar received highest
public and critical acclaim. The Mussorgsky’s opera was performed in it’s original 1869
version. The cast: Shuisky - Štefan Margita, Pimen - Andrea Silvestrelli, Varlaam - Raymond
Aceto, Conductor - Sir Andrew Davis, Director - Julia Pevzner
In the press:
Lyric Opera’s ‘Boris Godunov’
full of outstanding performances
“On Monday, Lyric revived its austerely handsome 1994-95 production of the opera, and at its center is
Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, a stellar artist making a shockingly late Lyric debut. On opening night,
Furlanetto’s Boris was a riveting combination of commanding authority and heart-wrenching despair.
Furlanetto’s Boris was a towering yet all-too-human character. The czar consumed by guilt over the murder
that brought him to Russia’s throne in 1598 is one of the Italian bass’ signature roles. Cutting a handsome
figure with his wild mane of graying hair and flowing, fur-rimmed robes, Furlanetto has honed it to a complex psychological profile.
His is not a sepulchral bass, one of those voices whose low register conveys the chill of the grave itself.
On Monday we were drawn to Boris by the all-enveloping warmth and flexibility of Furlanetto’s singing.
Yes, he was a supreme ruler. As he grappled with a scheming courtier (the wonderfully sinister Slovakian
tenor Stefan Margita), we didn’t doubt that he would happily murder the man in a minute.
But Furlanetto was equally believable in tender scenes with his beloved children. Warmly hugging his
teenage daughter, Xenia, smiling at the chatter of his bright young heir, Fyodor, he was a loving papa. And
when Boris’ diseased mind began to destroy his body, Furlanetto’s blend of powerful voice and broken spirit
was chilling.”
Wynne Delacoma Chicago Sun-Times
Czar power: A riveting Furlanetto leads a
superb cast in Lyric’s
“Furlanetto was providing the most
memorable performance of this demanding
role that Chicago audiences have ever heard.
The Italian bass has clearly honed the role
of the conflicted czar to a fine and nuanced
dramatic point. …
From his entrance as a reluctant ascendant to the throne, Furlanetto brought commanding presence and complete authority,
vocally and dramatically.
….his voice remains in remarkably
strong and flexible estate. In the long narration of Part Two (“I have achieved supreme
power”) Furlanetto brought great dramatic
force and startling intensity to his long soliloquy. So too he charted Boris’s mental decline with almost clinical detail. One can go
a long time without experiencing the kind of
complete vocal acting Furlanetto brought to
Boris’s death scene — conveying the czar’s
filial love, guilt, regret, and defiance — in
a performance that was beautifully sung,
compelling, and heart-breaking,”
Lawrence A. Johnson,
Czar turn: Furlanetto’s commanding portrayal adds
power to Lyric’s ‘Boris Godunov’
“Furlanetto has made this touchstone bass role his own. The qualities that make him a superb Verdi
singer also make him a superb interpreter of the complex and contradictory anti-hero. He was the first Italian
to sing the title role in St. Petersburg, Russia, and his portrayal has also graced the theaters of Milan, Venice
and Vienna.
His formidable voice – full, even, effortlessly powerful, blessed with varied colorations -- combined
with his skills as a singing actor to convey the czar’s torment and downfall with stunning immediacy.
The rolling vocal authority he lavished on the czar’s “public” scenes was achieved without bluster,
just as the domestic scenes between Boris and his two beloved children, Fyodor (Emily Fons) and Xenia
(Emily Birsan), were a triumph of finely sculpted legato phrases.
Such touches as the half-mad ruler’s wrapping himself in a giant map of Russia at the end of the
Hallucination Scene were bone-chilling. The final scene, in which the dying czar urged his son (and heir-apparent), to guard Russia’s borders, seek justice and preserve the faith, also packed great vocal and dramatic
punch. …
For Furlanetto’s magnificent performance alone, this “Boris Godunov” is well worth catching.”
John von Rhein Chicago Tribune
Glorious Boris at Lyric
“The opera hinges on its title character, embodied and sung majestically by practically-Russian-butItalian Ferruccio Furlanetto, the first Italian to sing Boris at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. We
first see him equivocating as the Duma (parliament) calls for him to become the next Czar. Once he finally
accepts, his mind continues to be plagued by some unseen dread. The highlights of the opera are his soliloquies, in which he gives greater and greater hints as to his misery. But he never descends into full-blown
madness, maintaining regal dignity until the very end.”
Evan Kuchar, Chicago Now
Review: Lyric Opera of Chicago’s ‘Boris Godunov’
“Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto fascinates in a riveting portrayal of the late 16th century czar.
With a powerful voice and a majestic frame, Furlanetto towers over everyone around him and delivers on
the czar’s rise and fall with grand eloquence.
His performance is especially chilling in the scene in which the title character descends into madness and
wraps himself in a giant map of Russia.”
Betty Mohr Southtown Star
Ferruccio Furlanetto: A Czar For All Ages
“Boris Godunov, the most Russian of operas, returned to the Lyric Opera after an absence of 17
years. Ferruccio Furlanetto, who has conquered Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence, Vienna, and St. Petersburg
in the role, made his long overdue debut. Why he has been so successful is immediately apparent. A large
man, with a commanding stage presence, he sings his lyric lines with great beauty and feeling. He moves
with the music to help us understand this complex figure in Russian history. …
Furlanetto captures all the complexities of this majestic character. Through tone and dynamics, he
deploys a wide range of emotion in a large, rich voice. His tender and wounded side is not recessive as he
whispers agony and heart-rending grief and guilt, but rather expresses feelings so unbearable that they must
be shushed.
A Boris for the ages in the portrayal by Ferruccio Furlanetto, who is heralded even in Russia as a
great Czar.”
Susan Hall
Ferruccio Furlanetto, the ace of basses, sings role
‘dearest to my heart’ at Lyric
Hollywood hot shots including Leonardo DiCaprio and director James Cameron have given the
catchphrase “I’m the king of the world!” — from the film “Titanic” (1997) — lots of pop-culture currency.
But in the realm of fine arts, especially opera, possibly no one owns the phrase more than Italian-born bass
Ferruccio Furlanetto.
He has given definitive performances of regal roles such as King Philip II in Verdi’s “Don Carlo”
(in which he received raves last season at the Metropolitan Opera) and Massenet’s “Don Quichotte” (which
he will reprise next month at the Teatro Real in Madrid). Last week at Lyric Opera of Chicago, he opened
triumphantly as the tragic czar in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” which many consider the pinnacle of all
bass portrayals, and a role he calls “dearest to my heart.”
In 1999, he did his first “Boris,” following in the wake of great basses such as Feodor Chaliapin,
Boris Christoff and Nicolai Ghiaurov. “I never finish learning this role,” said Furlanetto in an interview
backstage at Lyric Opera. “It’s wonderful to have this metamorphosis. After 12 years of singing this role, it
continues to evolve with me. To put on the robes of Boris, I still find it a joy and a privilege.”
His “Boris” has been hailed worldwide, and Chicago’s critics are adding to the sense of coronation that has
been bestowed upon him. In the Sun-Times, contributor Wynne Delacoma wrote that Furlanetto’s singing
draws listeners with his “all-enveloping warmth and flexibility. He was a supreme ruler.”
On his Chicago Classical Review site, Lawrence A. Johnson noted, “From the time of Chaliapin,
the doomed Boris Godunov has been a showcase for the greatest basses of the past century, three of whom
— Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Samel Ramey — have tackled the role in Chicago. Fine as those
artists were, it was hard not to think that Furlanetto was providing the most memorable performance of this
demanding role that Chicago audiences have ever heard.”
But wait, there’s more: “One can go a long time without experiencing the kind of complete vocal acting that Furlanetto brought to Boris’ death scene, conveying the czar’s filial love, guilt, regret and defiance
—in a performance that was beautifully sung, compelling and heartbreaking.”
Notices like these validate the great anticipation that preceded Furlanetto’s arrival at Lyric. Given his
long and successful career, which began in the mid-’70s, it seems unbelievable that “Boris” marks his house
Chicago audiences, however, recall his stellar turn in the Mozart/da Ponte opera cycle presented by
Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in semi-staged productions at Orchestra Hall during the 1991-92 season. The original concept for this cycle came from director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, whom
Furlanetto calls “a god” and regards as his acting mentor. Because the operas were semi-staged, “We had
very little elements to work with, so everything was concentrated on the acting and the character [development]. It was an amazing success, and the result was very beautiful.
“I think it was mission accomplished, I must say,” Furlanetto added with a satisfied laugh.
The mission to bring him to Lyric took longer to accomplish. “There were offers in the past but nothing ever
worked out,” he said. “But it’s better late than never. I am happy to be here, and the preparations for ‘Boris’
have been wonderful. I’m glad my Lyric debut is finally happening with one of the roles I love.”
The legendary “Boris” performances of the past came largely from Slavic singers, and Furlanetto, now 62,
has concentrated mainly on the Italian-French repertoire. But he was the first Italian bass to sing the title role
of “Boris Godunov” at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. Next season he will achieve the same milestone at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow.
Furlanetto believes singing in Russian might be less daunting for Italians because “though the languages have nothing in common, they both rely on vowels to project the sound. For an Italian, I think it is
easier to sing in Russian than German, which is the opposite of Italian in terms of carrying the sound.”
Acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has encouraged him to perform the role. “It has been quite a
challenge but such a rewarding experience,” Furlanetto said. During the dress rehearsal under Gergiev for
his Mariinsky debut as Boris in 2004, “at the end of the Clock Scene [in which the czar goes mad], the chorus and orchestra were shouting their approval.”
A few summers ago, Furlanetto did a Russian song recital at Gergiev’s White Nights Festival, and
“the audience applauded like crazy. Now I am one of them.”
After his runs in “Boris” and “Don Quichotte,” Furlanetto will return to the Metropolitan Opera,
which has served as his American base, along with San Diego Opera. At the Met, he will sing Mephistopheles in Gounod’s “Faust,” de Silva in Verdi’s “Ernani” (part of the “Live in HD” simulcast Feb. 25) and Don
Basilio in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.”
“My career started with the simple, heavy Verdi roles, like Sparafucile in ‘Rigoletto,’ and Mozart.
For the first opera I learned, I sang Sarastro in [Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’] but in Italian,” he said. “I had
20 years of mostly Mozart, which is the greatest medicine that I could have had for my vocal development,
because you can’t sing Mozart in any other way than using your natural vocality.”
At this point, he has retired from Mozart operas, except for “Don Giovanni,” because these works
largely consist of age-specific roles. “I don’t feel like jumping around onstage anymore,” he said, laughing.
“Now instead of pure joy, I feel pure fatigue.”
For the future, he hopes to focus on his four favorites: “Boris,” “Don Carlo,” “Don Quichotte” and
a rarity, Pizzetti’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” which San Diego will stage for him in 2013. In this opera, he
sings the role of the martyred Thomas Becket, and plans are in the works for Furlanetto and Gergiev to perform the work in Canterbury, on the site where the archbishop was murdered in 1170.
What links these works, he believes, “is that they are four purely theatrical roles, they are theater in
music. They are acting challenges, and for this, I must thank Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. He taught me to get the
characters under my skin.”
Furlanetto also cites his role model, the great Italian bass Cesare Siepi: “He had that wonderful Latin
vocal color, which he applied to the roles of Verdi and Mozart.” Furlanetto regrets that Siepi, who died last
year, was never asked to perform “Don Quichotte,” because “he would have been great.”
As for whether his repertoire has helped his career longevity, Furlanetto wryly notes, “I didn’t think
to do it because I wanted to last until the end. I did it because of Siepi. Just trying to follow his tracks led me
“It is so strange sometimes. It can take you 37 years to come to a theater -- or it could take you forever to get
a role.”
Sun Times feature on Ferruccio Furlanetto
Press contact:
Vera Stepanovskaya
[email protected]
Artistic managment:
Daniel Lombard
[email protected]
29 rue Violet - 75015 Paris
Tel: 33 1 42 34 53 47 - Fax: 33 1 40 46 93 77
Photo credit: Dan Rest