'Boris Godunov' premiere takes center stage

April 6, 2007 11:10 a.m.
Dmitry the Pretender

Freshman Adam Zivkovic portrays Dmitry the Pretender, the challenger to the Russian throne, in the world premiere production of "Boris Godunov." Princeton scholars, students and artists have worked for months to stage Alexander Pushkin's historical play about the Russian czar. Directed by Tim Vasen, the Princeton production is inspired by a version abandoned by Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold in the era of Stalinist censorship 70 years ago. The sold-out performances run April 12-14 in the Berlind Theatre.

Above left: Senior Andy Brown (center, in white) plays Boris Godunov, the tyrannical czar who ruled Russia from 1598 to 1605.

Students perform traditional Polish pieces

For the production's main dance scene, students will perform two traditional Polish pieces: a polonaise, which is a stately, procession-like dance, and a mazurka, which is a lively folk dance.

Above left: An English translation is projected on the stage as members of the University Glee Club perform a Russian chant.  

Godunov in his ornate robe after becoming czar

The production features a colorful array of costumes for the student actors, who play multiple parts. Brown is shown here as Godunov in his ornate robe after becoming czar. Above left: The dynamic "Godunov" set, designed by Princeton architecture students, features rows of tubing that run vertically throughout the stage, allowing the actors to pull them together or apart and even climb them. Here sophomore Sam Zetumer (center) is the crafty Prince Shuisky, who conspires against the czar Godunov.  

Lily Cowles as the prophetic Holy Fool

Sophomore Lily Cowles, as the prophetic Holy Fool, accuses Godunov of being unworthy of the throne. Above left: Freshman Becca Foresman plays an evil monk. Below left: Members of the University Orchestra perform the score by Sergei Prokofiev, which was commissioned for the ill-fated 1936 production and has never been used for a live performance of the play.

Photos: Denise Applewhite

The program for the production is available in PDF format.

Boris Godunov

After months of inspired collaborations between Princeton scholars, students and artists, the curtain will rise on the University's world premiere production of "Boris Godunov" Thursday through Saturday, April 12-14, at the Berlind Theatre.

The sold-out performances are the culmination of a vast creative endeavor that has spanned the entire academic year and numerous departments across the University. The effort to bring new life to Alexander Pushkin's classic play features a cast of student actors in multiple roles as well as performances by the University Glee Club, University Orchestra and student dancers -- all on a flexible, dynamic set designed by graduate students in the School of Architecture. The project also includes a Firestone Library exhibition and several academic initiatives.

members of the University Glee Club perform a Russian chant

Directed by Tim Vasen, a lecturer in the Program in Theater and Dance, the Princeton production is inspired by Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold's unrealized version of Pushkin's historical play. Meyerhold, one of modern theater's most innovative and influential figures, abandoned his "Godunov" production 70 years ago in the face of Stalinist Soviet politics. The Princeton performance will feature a score by famed composer Sergei Prokofiev that was commissioned by Meyerhold but never used for a live performance of the play.

The play dramatizes Godunov's rise to power, his increasingly tyrannical reign as czar from 1598 to 1605 and the challenge to his throne by Dmitry the Pretender, who claimed to be a son of Ivan the Terrible.

Boris Godunov

The "Godunov" project is managed by Caryl Emerson, chair of the Slavic languages and literatures department, and Simon Morrison, associate professor of music. It is sponsored by the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, along with several departments and offices across campus.

As an accompaniment to the production, scholars of Russian history, literature, theater and music will convene on campus for a series of scholarly events that are open to the public. They begin with a keynote address on "Meyerhold and His World (1929-1940)" by independent scholar Leonid Maximenkov at 4:30 p.m. April 12 in 101 McCormick Hall.

 Freshman Becca Foresman plays an evil monk

From 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 13, an international symposium will be held in McAlpin Auditorium, Woolworth Center of Musical Studies. Topics will include Russian modernist theater and set design, the challenge of translating a play like "Godunov" into English for a contemporary audience, and Prokofiev's incidental music for stage and film. The following day, a series of scholarly talks on topics related to Meyerhold and Prokofiev -- conducted only in Russian -- will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in the Graduate Seminar Room of the Mendel Music Library, Woolworth Center.

If seats for the sold-out performances become available through last-minute cancellations, they can be purchased at the McCarter Theatre Center box office prior to show times, which are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday.

For more information on the symposium and the "Godunov" project, visit the project website.

Members of the University Orchestra perform the score by Sergei Prokofiev