Lyric’s “Boris” Explodes with Power

The sound of slender reeds opens a story of political intrigue, plots and crimes in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.”

Lyric’s music director Sir Andrew Davis conducts this grim masterpiece, which is based on Pushkin’s play of the same name and recounts events from late 16th century Russian history.

Boris is sung by an Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto, who at all times portrays the possibly murderous czar as an all-too-human ruler. His voice possesses singular power, yet he can be painfully vulnerable, descending into madness as he is tormented by the memory of his crime.

Slovakian tenor Stefan Margita, also in his Lyric debut, portrays Prince Shuisky, a false friend to the increasingly disturbed czar.

Pageantry and even some revelry abound, but the fifth scene is the most delightful. Boris and his young son, Fyodor, a trouser role portrayed by the nimble, sweet-voiced mezzo Emily Fons of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, survey a huge floor map of the vast Russian empire.

The music, which at once shimmers with menace and explodes with the triumphant sounds of the court, tells us everything. There are no sets, but the drama needs none. Icons and banners fill the coronation scene, while tables and a throne pass as props and trap doors open and close as needed.

Mussorgsky’s lavish music is matched by Lyric’s strong, subtle chorus, populating the stage as peasants in pale rags and or powerful red-coated boyars, wealthy members of the government council.

“Boris Godunov” is not light entertainment, but the Lyric has assembled great voices to portray the lengths to which men have gone in their struggle for political power.

The final scene says it all. Boris is dead. The skinny young heir crouches uneasily on the throne. Facing him is Shiusky, once his father’s friend, a knife behind his back glinting momentarily in the spotlight.

“Boris Godunov” is sung in Russian with projected super-titles. It is presented in repertory through November 29. Call 312-332-2244 or visit lyricopera.org.