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Lev Sibiryakov – Pimen’s Monolog from Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov

By April 23, 2019March 17th, 2023No Comments

In this prologue to Boris Godunov, I have selected Lev Sibiryakov to sing the monk Pimen. It is an extraordinary performance, especially when you take into account the it was recording acoustically between 1907 and 1913. Sibiryakov was a great, great bass, equal in many ways to Chaliapin.

Sibiryakov studied in Milan and made some guest appearances in Italy before returning to Russia, where he made his début in 1895. Singing first in the provinces, he established himself as a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where his roles included Wotan, made remarkable by his ability to penetrate any orchestral forte without forcing, becoming an element of the orchestral sound. He sang Don Basilio in Barbiere (in Russian) with the Boston Opera Company in 1910 and Marcel in Les Huguenots at Covent Garden in 1911. Back in Russia, he continued for some years, leaving for Western Europe after the Revolution. In 1932 he sang in Aida and La favorite at Monte Carlo and made a final appearance in the title role of Boris Godunov at Brussels in 1938. At 6’ 6” tall and with a voice of proportionate volume, he was often compared with Chaliapin.

Russians have provided magnificent signers to the world.  Although the years behind the Iron Curtain made it very difficult for the West to hear them, there are recordings of outstanding Russian singers in their prime before the Curtain fell.  This posting is going to be be about one such singer – Lev Sibiryakov.  Sibiryakov was born in St. Petersburg in 1869, and died in Antwerp in 1942.  He was a Russian Jew, and he was a bass, a real Russian bass.  When you listen to him, you’ll see what I mean.  There were several Russian Jewish basses of his caliber:  Ivan Perov, Alexander Kipnis, and Mark Reizen to name a few.  When I wrote that Sibiryakov died in Antwerp, that was a cipher.  He was deported to one of the concentration camps and died there.

We are going to hear Pimen’s aria from Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.  I apologize in advance.  I usually try to give the Russian cyrillic, the transliteration into the Latin alphabet, and finally, the English.  In this case, I had no luck finding anything except sheet music in Russian, and since I don’t have a Russian keyboard (and I don’t understand Russian!), the transliteration and the English will have to do.

Pimen’s Monologue
Recorded 1913

Ešče odno poslednee skazan’e
I letopos’ okončena moja.
Okončen trud, zaveščannyj ot Boga
Mne, grešnomu.
(pišet; priostanavlivaetsja)
Ne darom mnogich let
Svidetelem Gospod’ menja postavil.
Kogda-nibud’ monach trudoljubivvy
Najdet moj trud userdnyi, bezymjannyi;
Zasvetit on, kak ja, svoju lampadu,
I, pyl’ vekov
Ot chartij otrjachnuv,
Pravdivye skazan’ja perepišet.
Da vedajut potomki
Zemli rodnoj minuvšuju sud’bu.
Na starosta ja syznova živu.
Minuvšee prochodit predo mnoju,
Volnujasja kak more-okian.
Davno I’ ono neslos’
Sobytij polno . . .
Teper’ ono spokojno i bezmolvno!
Odanko blizok den’,
Lampada dogoraet . . .
Ešče odno, poslednee skazan’e

Pimen’s Monologue
Recorded 1913

Just one more final story
And my chronicle will be complete.
The task ordained to me, poor sinner, by the Lord
Has been finished.
(he writes; he pauses)
Not for nothing did the Lord cause me
To be the witness of many years.
Sometime in the future, an industrious monk
Will find the anonymous fruit of my hard work;
Like I, he will light his oil-lamp,
And, shaking the dust of centuries
From the manuscripts,
He will transcribe these truthful stories,
And, may the descendents
Of orthodox folk
Learn the past history of their native land.
In my old age, I seem to live again.
The past passes by in front of me,
Troubled like a mighty sea
Was it really so long ago that it flowed by
So full of events . . .
Now, it is quiet and silent!
However, day will soon dawn . . .
The oil-lamp is burning low . . .
Just one more final tale . . .