Meyerhold, a major force in early 20th-century theater, had planned to mount his staging in Moscow in 1936, but the political climate under Stalin's regime forced him to cancel the production. He was ultimately arrested in June 1939 on charges of treason and shot in February 1940.
Prokofiev's score, for chorus and orchestra, has never been used for a live performance of Pushkin's play, although it has been recorded. It features a military tattoo, drunken singing, ballroom dances, a reverie and a love scene; one of the numbers, a Polonaise, requires complex choreography.As in Mussorgsky's operatic version of Boris Godunov, Prokofiev's music includes a passage for a Holy Fool.
The New York Times quotes Simon Morrison, an associate professor of music at Princeton who is writing a book about Prokofiev, as saying, "I was fairly stunned and I continue to be stunned. This is one of the scores that he composed in the '30s when he was at the top of his game, and it went to waste. He never heard it in his lifetime."
Directed by Tim Vasen, the Princeton staging — of which we offer a few photos below — uses Meyerhold's aborted plans as its foundation. The university's Mendel Music Library owns copies of Meyerhold's rehearsal transcripts, which reportedly state that Meyerhold wanted the acting to be energetic, with the set in constant motion and the audience made to feel part of the action.
The text will be given in a new English translation by Antony Wood. According to the Princeton website devoted to the project, this will be the first known performance in English of Pushkin's complete text.
The production is a collaboration between Princeton University and the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow, and will involve students in the university's Program in Theater and Dance and School of Architecture, as well as the Princeton University Orchestra and Chamber Chorus.
Boris Godunov runs April 12-14 at the Berlind Theater in the McCarter Theater complex in Princeton, New Jersey.
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All photos by Denise Applewhite © 2007, and provided courtesy of the Princeton University Office of Communications.