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«Boris Godunov is an opera that is highly critical of those who abuse their power, a subject of absolute relevance» Kasper Holten

08/12/2022

An interview by Gema Pajares for El Compositor Habla


«Censoring Mussorgsky for being Russian seems to me a serious mistake»

 
 

 
 
 
The stage director, in charge of the Royal Danish Theater, signs the mise en scène of Boris Godunov, by Modest Mussorgsky, an opera that the 7th of December, as is tradition, opens the season of the La Scala Theater in Milan. In the pit will be Riccardo Chailly.

As always, as every year, on December the 7th, the feast of Saint Ambrose, La Scala in Milan raises the curtain and the city of fashion becomes even more of a stage. This year the inauguration carries the implicit adjective of controversy, since the choice of the opera to start the course, Boris Godunov (1874), by Mussorgsky, has stirred up the spirits of the Ukrainian consul Andrii Kartysh, who asked at the time to withdraw it. The reason? It is by a Russian author and he considers that it is propaganda for the country. However the schedules are decided years in advance and this date was closed when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2021. Kasper Holten (Copenhagen, 1973) has lived through the controversy while working side by side with Ildar Abdrazakov, Russian by birth, and headliner of the cast. In other words, the incident has not altered his roadmap. And this is where we start.




 
1.Gema Pajares: La Scala opens the season with Boris Godunov, the second time he has done so since Claudio Abbado directed it in 1979. What do you think of the critics who attack the fact that La Scala's prime is an opera by a Russian author?

Kasper Holten: I think it would be very wrong to censor this opera and not perform it. It is an opera (and a production, I may add), which is very critical of cynical who abuse their power, and we focus also on the innocent victims of these men. This message is sadly as relevant as ever before. It is hard to see how we can blame Mussorgsky for the current war.

 
«The world needs more art, not less»
 



2. G.P.: Do you believe, as Dominique Meyer has said, that it is necessary to separate politics and art?

K.H.: Art is sometimes used for political purposes, and we should be aware of this, but we should not hold Mussorgsky – who himself clashed with the “system” – responsible for the political decisions of the current Russian regime.
 
3. G.P.: How has this Boris Godunov set the scene? Does it take place in the same historical period as the script or have you changed it or revisited?

K.H.: Mussorgsky based his opera on a play by Pusjkin, and Pusjkin in turn wanted to write it in the style of Shakespeare, and once you start to see this piece through “the eyes of Shakespeare”, it unlocks so many things in the piece for me. And since Boris and Shakespeare were contemporaries, we see in the production a timeless universe, where sadly the language of violence and suffering recurs again and again – in the time of Boris, in the time of Mussorgsky and also today.
 
4. G.P.: How do you sell an opera of 1874 to a 21st century audience?

K.H.: I don’t think one needs to sell Mussorgsky’s masterpiece. It speaks loudly and clearly for itself.

 
«It is raw, overwhelming and powerful, and the themes are as relevant now as ever before»





I am sure audiences will immediately engage with Mussorgsky’s work, as long as we just try to do an honest and sincere reading of the piece.
 
5. G.P.: What do you think of those who say that the power of the stage director is above that of the conductor and the singers?

K.H.: Opera works best for me, when music and drama is combined in perfect balance, and I try to always to have a close collaboration with conductors and singers, and also listen to their suggestions and thoughts. It has been a great pleasure to develop this production together with Riccardo Chailly, and we had many conversations about it over the last years. But it is equally important to me to say that when we work as artists I don’t want just safe choices. We must be brave and honest, when we listen to the score and try to unfold it on stage and in the pit together.
 
6. G.P.: How much risk is there in your staging?

K.H.: It is equally important to me to say that when we work as artists I don’t want just safe choices. We must be brave and honest, when we listen to the score and try to unfold it on stage and in the pit together.
 
7. G.P.: Is contemporary opera sufficiently represented in theater programming? The Met has decided to bet on current composers in its seasons. There is, for example, the world premiere of The Hours on November 22.

K.H.: I think we have seen more premieres over the last 25 years than in the decades before, and this makes me happy. I have always commissioned new pieces, when I was in charge of opera companies, and it is wonderful to even see some of them now enter into the repertoire in new productions. We have, for instance, just done a new production of Poul Ruders The Handmaid’s Tale  in Copenhagen – an opera that premiered here 22 years ago and have had a number of different productions abroad.


 
«It is wonderful to also see big houses as The Met commissioning new pieces, even if it is always risky and expensive.»
 






8. G.P.: Would you like to direct more contemporary titles than you have brought to the scene?

K.H.: I have directed 11 opera world premieres and several other contemporary works, and I am very happy with this. I would love to direct world premieres again, when the right opportunity arises, and in a few years I am directing Manfred Trojahn’s Orest, which is not brand new, but relatively new.

9. G.P.: You led the Royal Opera House from 2011 to 2017 as Director of Opera. Would you put yourself in charge of an opera house again?

K.H.: I am currently CEO of the Royal Danish Theatre, having the overall responsibility for this institution, which is the national home of opera, ballet, drama and symphonic music in my home country, so I would say I have very much again put myself in charge of an opera house – and more.

 
10. G.P.: What do you think about the upcoming move of the ENO headquarters to Manchester due to budget cuts? There are those who say that it will be the beginning of the end for the institution

K.H.: I am so sad to see cuts to the arts continue to happen in the UK, and whilst I support the idea of building a stronger cultural offering outside of London, I find it a tragedy and utterly deplorable that it is funded through cuts to wonderful institutions in the capital that used to be known for its rich arts scene. The UK arts life already for many years has suffered from cuts and shrinking funding, making the arts less accessible to people. ENO is such an important institution for opera, not just in the UK, but everywhere, and I have incredibly strong memories from performances in this institution, which has played a major part in shaping the opera world as we know it today. To cut it and force it to move, and to impose new cuts on the Royal Opera House, instead of supplying new funds for an opera company in Manchester, is a disaster.
 
11. G.P.: Do you have an offer to direct opera in Spain, at the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Liceu in Barcelona or the Palau de les Arts in Valencia?

K.H.: I directed Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot for Teatro Real and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” for Liceu some years ago, and both was very enjoyable experiences. I do not have any future plans for Spain, but I also direct much less often now, as my main job is as CEO in Copenhagen.

 



 
Boris Godunov
La Scala. Milán
 
Ópera en cuatro actos y un prólogo
7, 10, 13, 16, 20, 23, 29
Música y libreto: Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky
 
 
Orquesta y Coro de La Scala
Dirección musical: Riccardo Chailly
Dirección de escena: Kasper Holten
 
Reparto:
Boris Godunov:
Ildar Abdrazakov
Fyodor:
Lilly Jørstad
Kseniya:
Anna Denisova
Niñera de Kseniya
Agnieszka Rehlis
Vasiliy Shuysky
Norbert Ernst
Shchelkalov
Alexey Markov
Pimen
Ain Anger
Grigorij Otrepev
Dmitry Golovnin
Varlaam
Stanislav Trofimov
Misail
Alexander Kravets
La posadera
Maria Barakova
The yuródivïy
Yaroslav Abaimov
Pristav, jefe de la guardia
Oleg Budaratskiy
Mityukha, un campesino
Roman Astakhov
Boyardo
Vassily Solodkyy
 
 
The photos of Boris Godunov are by Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano
 
The portraits of Kasper Holten are by Sim Canetti-Clarke.

The photos of Kasper Holten and Ildar Abdrazakov are by Brescia & Amisano
 
More information at the web at teatroallascala
 
 



Gema Pajares Jiménez
Born in Madrid in 1965, she has a degree in Information Sciences from the Complutense University. In July 1990 she began her professional career as an intern in the Culture section of the ABC newspaper. Months later she went to work at the weekly ABC de las Artes supplement and from there at the weekly ABC Cultural until the summer of 1998. In November of that same year she was appointed head of the Entertainment section of the recently created newspaper La Razón, founded by Luis María Anson. Years later she holds the position of head of the Culture section of the newspaper, where she has worked for 22 years until January 2020. She currently collaborates in different media







 
 

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