Princeton's «Boris Godunov», 1936/2007

Caryl Emerson


     On April 12, 2007, after half-a-year of intense collaboration between Mu­sic, Slavic, Theater and Dance, and the School of Architecture, the Berlind Theater at Princeton University “premiered a concept.” The communica­tions and publicity staff of the university, which prefers to work with clear-cut snappy labels for things, initially found this idea difficult to grasp. Qualifying it as a “premiere” was the fact that the dramatic text was Pushkin’s uncut, uncensored original 1825 version of Boris Godunov (all twenty-five scenes), rehearsed (incompletely) by Vsevolod Meyerhold, with music that Sergei Prokofiev wrote in 1936 specifically for this play but which had never been heard in its proper context. The Princeton pro­duction was still a “concept,” however, and not a revival or a historic resto­ration, because like so much else prepared for the Pushkin Death Centen­nial of 1937, this musicalized play never got to opening night. It remained a partially rehearsed torso. This Pushkin Review forum hopes to capture some of the excitement of Princeton’s creative-restorative project, which Simon Morrison (a professor of Music and Princeton’s Prokofiev scholar) and I co-managed for much of 2006–07. For me it was the culmination of thirty years’ thinking about Pushkin’s play, topped by that unprecedented dream come true: seeing and hearing the whole play live, and alive, in more dimensions than Pushkin could have ever dreamed of on stage.

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