The Musorgsky Reader: A Life of Modeste Petrovich Musorgsky in Letters and Documents

By Jay Leyda; Sergei Bertensson et al. | Go to book overview

85a. VLADIMIR STASOV to the EDITOR of Novoye Vremya [Extract]

. . . Our operas resemble chickens that can't defend themselves against a powerful cook. At any day and hour of his choice some Terenti or Pakhom has the right to catch the most talented Russian opera by the wings, chop off its legs or tail, cut its throat and cook a fricassee of his own invention. When Musorgsky's Boris was being considered, I remember hearing some profound connoisseurs saying with an important mien and with their customary aplomb, that the entire 5th act was quite superfluous, that it simply had to be cut off, or, at least, that it should be transposed, and played before the 4th act. O God, it was just like being in the kitchen! . . . Poor Glinka paid bitterly all his life for the famous "experience" of those who surrounded him. "Count Vielgorsky," says Glinka in his Memoirs, "made merciless cuts in Ruslan (after its first performances) and often in its best parts, saying with a self-satisfied air: Am I not a master at making coupures!" This self-satisfied air and merciless barbarity continue to this day . . . The other day all Petersburg saw with amazement that the entire 5th act of Boris had been discarded, and this without consulting or notifying anybody. One goes to hear an opera as it has been conceived and created by its author, and not as some manager thinks it should be! It may be objected: "Yes, but we have the author's consent, he himself approved the cut." Ah, don't speak to me of "consent!" While you hold the author in your claws, he'll consent to anything. He can't defend himself or protest, and when his entire opera may be removed from the calendar, he has no alternative but to consent. Not everyone has the fortitude of a Beethoven or a Schubert, not everyone is big enough to withdraw his work rather than have it mutilated . . .

[Printed in the issue of October 27, 1876]

Lies and Apologies

Later, when (I don't know by whose initiative) they began to omit the last act from performances of Boris--Musorgsky not only approved this cut, but was especially pleased with it. Agreeing with him that this last act was obviously superfluous in the development of the drama and that it had the appearance of something hastily pasted on at the end (as it actually was) I nevertheless regretted its complete omission because I found much that was good musically in it, and therefore I told Musorgsky that I would prefer to see this act moved forward, so that the arrival of the Pretender would precede Boris's

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