A Lesson From Boris Goldovsky

by Joseph Shore


I sang Rigoletto with The Goldovsky Opera Theatre on tour when I was a young singer. I learned a lot from Goldovsky about a lot of things. Boris was WAY ahead of his time in a lot of things. In those things he was also very ancient, going back to the genius of the art-form itself. He saw through the facade of the stage director cult even then. He said to me, in his thick Russian accent, "My boy, opera is being staged today by a lot of people who do not really like opera and think that something must be done to it to make it acceptable." He was as right as rain and as pertinent as a prophet!


We were discussing producing Rigoletto one day and I was waxing eloquent (or so I thought) about how Verdi would have produced it. "Mr. G." as he liked to be called, said something that shocked me. He said, "My boy, I think I know a lot more about Rigoletto than Verdi did."  At first I thought that this was the height of arrogance!! How dare he say something like that, but slowly he began to "educate" me. Let me summarize the lesson:


A great opera is a work of art and all genuine art is "alive." Verdi (like any other composer) gave "birth" to a new creation. His compositions were not simple abstractions from his own mind. Every composer knows that his creations are more than himself. Only a stolid novice would think otherwise. Verdi gave "birth" to a new creation, a work of art. Like any living thing it must grow or die. An opera as a work of art grows by its interaction with the world of art. Every new production, good or bad, every new singer, every new producer, every new director, adds something to the growth of the art-form. Goldovsky was telling me that he had a perspective on Rigoletto that Verdi could not have possessed. He, Goldovsky, saw how the opera had interacted with the world of opera for over a hundred years and therefore he had witnessed its growth as a living art-form. It would be similar to a father knowing his son as an infant but never seeing him grow into adulthood. Those who knew the young adult would have an understanding of him that the father, deprived of such experience, could not have.


Imagine what would have happened if Verdi had restricted Rigoletto so that there was allowed only one production of it, with one group of singers, with one director, one set, one costumery, and with himself in control of it at all times?  Artistic death would have occurred, much the same as happens in the natural when a parent over-protects a child, stunts him, refuses to allow him to grow, tries to keep the child from developing an independence. Such children die inside and often develop into monsters.



Goldovsky helped me to understand that a great composer produces art which is greater than himself and that his art is "organic," rather than just a clutter of ink blots on a page. Those things, the musical notations, are but poor notations to try to convey to us the actual creation which came through the composer and which lives and breathes as artists take it into themselves and interact with it. Yes, he knew a GREAT deal more about Rigoletto than Verdi did. He saw how Rigoletto had grown. Verdi knew it only as an infant.