Culture Magazine

A Tale Godunov to Share – the Chevy Chase of Basses?

By Galegirl

Tonight, I went to opening night at Berks Jazz Fest. At the gala before the show, I was talking with a veteran local musician, now a senior citizen, who had seen Boris Godunov at the Met decades ago.

“It starred a Finnish bass,” he explained but not remembering the name. “This singer was unusual because during the death scene, he didn’t just slump over in his chair like most Godunov’s. I remember he actually tumbled out of it.”

The death scene is dramatic and draining and to combine the equivalent of a pratfall in the scene sounded like a killer punishment to the body–over time.

I got home and within minutes on the computer, I googled Finnish bass and Godunov and found (drumroll, please) this video of Martti Talvela just about killing himself in this scene–definitely punishing his body. When he dies, he hits the floor,straight on, like dead weight. And yet he performed the role of Boris Godunov 39 times between 1974 and 1987, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which is why I referred to him as the Chevy Chase of opera. Not because Talvela was funny, but because he inflicted so much punishment on his body while on stage. Sadly, he died young, at only age 54 in 1989.


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