A Night At The Opera

Delta Green: A Night At The Opera

Agents are contacted on their secure phones and invited to "A night at the opera". Air tickets to New York and tickets to the current Metropolitan Opera performance of "Khovanshchina" by Mussorgsky are delivered by courier.

Agents attending the performance find that "Khovanshchina" burns white-hot. Blazingly sung, acted with conviction and conducted with intensity by Kirill Petrenko, it is one of the best things the Met has done this season. Keepers can find CDs of the opera at reasonable prices and may wish to play it for the players.

Mussorgsky mined episodes from 17th-century Russian history for a brooding work of both wide scope and disquieting intimacy. The nation's future is in play, and the characters represent the warring factions vying for authority. They are archetypes, but their emotions and weaknesses — destructive self-righteousness is universal in "Khovanshchina" — come to life in music of shining grandeur that recedes to passages of disarming delicacy. Folk songs mingle with majestic choruses.

The work is deliberate in its pace and episodic in its structure, its characters ambiguous and unsympathetic. But with the passionate performances in this revival of August Everding's lucid production, introduced in 1985 and not seen here since 1999, the risks and idiosyncrasies of "Khovanshchina" feel inspired.

The Met's Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian cast is idiomatic and consistently superb, led by the commanding bass Anatoli Kotscherga in a belated, booming Met debut as Ivan Khovansky, the leader of a rebellion against the czar. The softness and steel in Olga Borodina's mezzo-soprano are ideal for Marfa, a member of the fundamentalist Old Believers sect, with mystical tendencies.

The baritone George Gagnidze is richly forbidding as Shaklovity, one of the czar's allies, and Ildar Abdrazakov's bass-baritone full and eloquent as Dosifei, the leader of the Old Believers. The tenor Vladimir Galouzine is passionate, as always, as the reform-minded nobleman Golitsin.

Perhaps the most impressive performance is Mr. Petrenko's. The orchestra rise to powerful climaxes, but in quieter, conversational moments he holds the sound carefully below the singers. His pacing is controlled but flexible, ebbing,
flowing and inexorably building under Shaklovity's dark monologue bemoaning the state of Russia.

While the chorus sounds astonishing — clear and secure — the men tend to get ahead of Mr. Petrenko, and the whole group's acting, as is too often the case, is inconsistent: sometimes engaged, sometimes detached. The ballet in the penultimate scene does nothing to advance the opera's plot or themes, particularly not with Benjamin Millepied's bland new choreography.

But there are moments agents won't soon forget. Mr. Kotscherga's delivery of Khovansky's final greeting to his troops — "Good day, my children" — moves from thunderous arrogance to patronizing kindliness to hushed fear, capturing the
character in a single line. With only the barest of sets in the third scene for Marfa's confession that she is haunted by a past love, Ms. Borodina makes the cavernous Met feel tiny.

Mussorgsky never finished or arranged his opera, and the Met performs it in the version completed by Shostakovich, with one exception for this revival: Mr. Petrenko has interpolated the ending of another version, this one by Stravinsky. Unlike Shostakovich's crashing finale, Stravinsky's fades to nothing as the flames rise around the Old Believers. In this version "Khovanshchina" subsides back into the dawn with which it began, offering little hope but tremendous beauty.

San Costs: 0/1 loss for players who sit through the whole thing.

Stats for NPCs will follow in an email on some other date.

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