Exhibition showcases 'Godunov' production

An aged woodcut map showing the boundaries of 16th-century Russia will be featured alongside innovative stage models and lavish costume designs in a special exhibition opening Sunday, April 1, to document Princeton's efforts to mount a world-premiere production of "Boris Godunov."

The exhibition will open in the Milberg Gallery of Firestone Library on campus in advance of the production of Alexander Pushkin's play about the Russian tsar Godunov, which will premiere April 12 at the Berlind Theatre. Managed by Associate Professor of Music Simon Morrison and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures Caryl Emerson, the "Godunov" project is a multifaceted effort that includes the stage performance, musical composition, orchestral accompaniment and a scholarly symposium, in addition to the library exhibition.

The exhibition will serve a dual purpose, according to curator Paula Matthews, the University's music librarian. It places the tale of Boris Godunov in the historical context of efforts to publish Pushkin's 19th-century play, while also documenting the Princeton production taking shape today.

"My hope is that the exhibition reflects the energy of the production and the historical context of the Princeton 'Godunov,'" Matthews said. "Alongside the background of the abandoned effort by director Vsevolod Meyerhold and composer Sergei Prokofiev to mount their 'Godunov' in 1937, we also show the enthusiasm and creative artistry that our faculty, students and staff are contributing to put their own mark on this production."

Meyerhold abandoned his efforts to stage "Godunov" in the face of Stalinist Soviet politics. He was arrested on fabricated charges of treason in 1939 and shot a year later.

The library exhibition will feature a 1578 German wood-cut map of pre-Godunov Russia, volumes representing the history of efforts to publish "Godunov," a page from a facsimile of the play's musical score commissioned from Prokofiev, and photographs illustrating the theatrical career of Meyerhold, whose unrealized version of Pushkin's play inspired Princeton's production.

Documentation of the University's efforts will include an architectural model of the set designed by Princeton architecture students, sketches of the costume designs, a historical costume, and photographs of the many participants coming together in design meetings and rehearsals. The "Godunov" project is distinguished by the multidisciplinary nature of the production, which includes faculty experts in Russian music and literature, professionals in music, theater and dance, and student performers and architects.

Project managers Morrison and Emerson said the exhibition is critical to developing a full understanding of the "Godunov" project.

"The exhibit is integral to the production, documenting the realization of the Meyerhold-inspired décor by the School of Architecture while also providing crucial background information about a play that is both steeped in Russian history and a part of that history," Morrison said. "Russians know the infamous tale of Tsar Boris Godunov and the Pretender to the throne by heart. This exhibit shows why that lonely, bleak tale has the capacity to haunt all of our dreams."

Ticket-holders for the April 12-14 performances will find in the exhibition much of what they need to know about the symbolism of the play, its history through the 19th century, and Meyerhold’s "tragically unrealized staging" in 1937, Morrison said.

"To bring to life this unrealized collaboration of three masters in another country, culture and language is a huge challenge -- and the appropriate literacy cannot all happen on opening night," Emerson added. "The exhibition is like an exquisite preparatory course that can be savored on one's own time, as often as one likes, as a set of precious stills to accompany the dynamism of the production itself. Russians of the 20th century carried this all around as part of their birthright. We have to work at it."

Items for the exhibition were drawn from materials in various collections of the Princeton University Library: rare books, manuscripts, historic maps, graphic arts, Cotsen Children's Library, Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, and the Mendel Music Library.

"With the participation of such varied special collections, we hope to emphasize the University library's support of scholarly and creative projects across campus," Matthews said.

The "Boris Godunov" exhibition will open with a lecture at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 1, in 101 McCormick Hall by Morrison and Emerson. The lecture is titled "Boris Godunov: Background of a Princeton World Premiere."

Tours of the exhibition have been scheduled to coincide with select performances of the Godunov production and a one-day scholarly symposium Friday, April 13, that will explore issues of Russian theater, history and translation. The tours will be held at: 6 p.m. Thursday, April 12; 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 14-15; 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2; and 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 2. The exhibition will be on view through Sept. 4. The Milberg Gallery's hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except Wednesday, when the gallery is open until 8 p.m., and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit the "Boris Godunov" project website