Friday, February 9, 2018
A Bleak Look at Tzarist Russia in Mussorgsky’s Opera Khovanshchina
Based in Rockville, Maryland, Uzi Ben-Ami, PhD, maintains a private psychology practice and serves the needs of patients on issues such as parenting, marriage, and anxiety. A classical music aficionado, Uzi Ben-Ami, PhD, has a particular interest in the works of 19th-century composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Mussorgsky.
In 2017, the BBC Symphony Orchestra staged one of the latter composer’s most remarkable operatic pieces, Khovanshchina. Focused on the fallout of the modernization program initiated by Peter the Great in the late 17th century, the prescient work represents a meditation on political reform and autocracy and was left unfinished at the time of Mussorgsky’s death.
Characterized as bleak and unrelenting, the opera alternates solo pieces with those involving dialogues engaging members of large choruses. This creates a sense of predestined fate similar to that in classical tragedy.
At the core of the story is the Khovansky family that formed a faction in Moscow against the tzar and the way in which the clan’s arrogant leader descends into what The Guardian calls “existential defiance” as the world he knows collapses. Not performed until five years after Mussorgsky’s death, the opera is described as unique in presaging the rise of totalitarianism in the 20th century.