Libretto by Modest Mussorgsky,
based on Alexander Pushkin’s play of the same name
Version and orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Orchestration of “At St. Basil Cathedral” scene by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov
Music Director: Nikolai Golovanov
Stage Director: Leonid Baratov
Designer: Fyodor Fedorovsky
Choreographer: Leonid Lavrovsky
Conductors: Vassily Sinaisky, Pavel Sorokin
Director: Igor Ushakov
Designer of scenery revival: Alyona Pikalova
Designer of costumes revival: Elena Zaytseva
Choreography revival: Ekaterina Mironova
Lighting Designer: Sergei Shevchenko
Chorus Master: Valery Borisov
|Boris Godunov||Mikhail Kazakov|
|Xenia, his daughter||Oxana Gorchakovskaya|
|Fyodor, his son||Yulia Mazurova|
|Xenia’s Nurse||Evgenia Segenyuk|
|Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky||Marat Gali|
|Andrei Shchelkalov, secretary to the Duma||Andrei Grigoriev|
|Pimen, hermit chronicler||Alexander Naumenko|
|Pretender, the false Dimitri, Grigory Otrepiev||Eduard Martynyuk|
|Marina Mnishek, daughter of the Sandomierz commander||Svetlana Shilova|
|Missail, a vagabond||Yuri Markelov|
|Nikitich, police officer||Vladimir Krasov|
|Mityusha, a peasant||Pavel Tchervinsky|
|Court Boyar||Vadim Tikhonov|
|Boyar from Kromy||Vadim Tikhonov|
|Two Women||Oxana GorchakovskayaIrina Udalova|
A crowd throngs by the high walls of the Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow. The boyar, Boris Godunov, has withdrawn to the monastery after the death of Tsar Fyodor, who did not leave an heir. That Boris will be elected to the throne is a foregone conclusion, but he makes a show of refusing the crown so that he is not suspected of wishing to seize power. At the order of a police officer, the people beg Godunov to accept election to the throne:
“Do not abandon us, Father,
Do not leave us helpness!”
But Shchelkalov, secretary of the Duma, announces that Boris is implacable.
Square in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin. A majestic pealing of bells — Boris has given his consent and is being crowned. But Tsar Boris is not happy, he is weighed down by anxiety:
“My soul is heavy,
Some instinctive fear
With ominous foreboding
Rivets my heart…”
In the Kremlin the bells are pealing and the people break out again into acclamation.
Late at night. A cell in the Chudov Monastery. By the light of an icon-lamp, the wise monk Pimen is writing a truthful chronicle of the history of the Russian state. In his chronicle, Pimen reveals the secret of the murder, by Boris Godunov, of Tsarevitch Dimitri who had stood between him and the throne. Grigory, a young novice, sharing Pimen’s cell, wakes up. He listens to the holy man’s tale and a storm of anxieties, passions and vainglorious ambitions breaks into the peace of the night. The idea comes to Grigory of calling himself the Tsarevitch and of doing battle with Boris for the throne.
“Boris! Boris! All tremble before you,
No one dares to remind you
Of the fate of the hapless infant…
But meanwhile a hermit in a dark cell
Is writing a terrible denunciation against you.
And you shall not escape human judgment,
As you shall not escape the judgment of heaven!”
An inn near the Lithuanian frontier. Three vagabond monks, Varlaam, Missail and Grigory, have dropped in on the sprightly, merry mistress of the establishment. Varlaam, a drunkard and glutton, sings a song about the capture of Kazan. Grigory, questions the mistress of the inn on the best route to Lithuania. A police officer comes into the inn: on the Tsar’s orders he is searching for the runaway monk, Grigory Otrepiev. After an unsuccessful attempt to deflect the suspicion from himself, Grigory leaps through the window and makes good his escape.
The Tsar’s private apartment in the Kremlin. Tsarevitch Fyodor is looking at the “Book of the Big Drawing”, the first map of Russia. Ksenia, Boris’ daughter, is grieving before a portrait of her dead fiancй, the heir to the Danish throne. In an attempt to cheer her up, her old nurse tells her a funny story. Boris comes in and talks tenderly to his children, he is pleased to see his son gleaning wisdom from a book. But even here, with his children, Boris is tormented by anguish. Russia has been visited by a terrible famine. “People affected with the plague wander about like wild animals”,and the common people blame the Tsar for all their troubles: “in the squares they curse the name of Boris”. Something approaching a groan breaks out from deep down inside the Tsar:
“All around is darkness and impenetrable gloom,
O, for a fleeting glimpse of a ray of joy!..
Some secret anxiety,
One inconstantly expecting disaster!..”
The boyar, Shuisky, comes in, a cunning courtier and leader of a group of boyars with seditious intentions. He brings bad news: a pretender has raised his head in Lithuania, having taken the name of the Tsarevitch Dimitri. He has the support of the King of Poland, the Polish nobles and the Pope. Boris requires Shuisky to tell him the truth: is he certain that the babe who was killed in the town of Uglich was the Tsarevitch Dimitri? Shuisky, enjoying the Tsar’s torment, describes the deep wound on the Tsarevitch’s neck, and the angelic smile on his lips…
“It seemed, that in his cradle
He was peacefully sleeping…”
Shuisky departs, having aroused with new force the fears and agitation which grip Boris: the latter now thinks he sees an apparition of the murdered Dimitri.
A ball in the garden of Mnishek, the Governor of Sandomir. The Polish nobles are preparing to march on Moscow. They mean to place their protйgй on the Russian throne: Grigory, the runaway monk from the Chudov monastery, who has taken the name of the murdered Tsarevitch Dimitri. In this they will be helped by the ambitious plans of the Governor’s daughter, the beautiful Marina, who dreams of becoming the wife of the future king of Russia. The long-awaited (by the Pretender) rendezvous between Marina and Dimitri who is in love with her takes place. However, Marina’s abrupt and calculating speech, and her determination, which she makes no attempt to conceal, to sit on the Russian throne disconcert the Pretender for a brief moment. Realizing this, Marina wins him over by false protestations of her love for him. The Jesuit, Rangoni, celebrates his victory.
An early winter’s morning. A square in front of the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed in Moscow. A crowd of starving people are discussing the Pretender’s victories over the forces of Boris. A Simpleton comes running into the Square. Urchins surround him and take a kopek from him . The Tsar comes out of the Cathedral. “Bread, bread! Give the starving bread! Give us bread, father, for the sake of Christ!” cries the crowd. Goaded by the urchins, the Simpleton addresses the Tsar: “Order them to be killed, as you killed the little Tsarevitch”. Boris tells the boyars not to seize the Simpleton:
“Let him be! Pray for me, simple person…”
But the Simpleton replies:
“No, Boris! It can not be done!
How can one pray for a Tsar Herod?
Our Lady does not allow it…”
A clearing in the forest near Kromy. Night-time. The peasants, who are in revolt, lead in a Kromy boyar whom they have taken prisoner. They make fun of the boyar, reminding him of all their grudges:
“You trained us the right way,
In storms and bad weather, and when roads were impassable,
You exploited us,
And whipped us with a slender lash…”
The arrival of the monks, Varlaam and Missail, who denounce the sins of Boris, the regicide, stirs up the crowd’s anger even more. They break out into a threatening song:
“A dashing young force is on the rampage,
The Cossack blood is all aflame!
A great subversive power has risen from the depths…”
Jesuit priests, the Pretender’s emissaries, appear. But the arrival of these foreigners arouses the crowd’s indignation. The peasants drag the Jesuits into the forest to be hanged.
The Pretender, rides into the clearing, surrounded by troops, Polish gentry and Jesuits. He frees the Kromy boyar. By promising his favor and protection, the Pretender persuades the peasants to march on Moscow. The sky lights up with the glow of a fire. The alarm bell is rung. The Simpleton appears, looking round him in fear. His prophetic words of the new troubles that await the Russian people are spoken in anguish and pain:
“Flow, flow, bitter tears,
Cry, cry, Russian Orthodox soul!
Soon the enemy will come and darkness will fall,
Black, impenetrable darkness…”
The Granovitaya Chamber, in the Kremlin. A session of the Duma is in progress. The boyars are discussing what punishment should be meted out to the Pretender should he be caught. Shuisky appears. He describes the scene in the Tsar’s private apartment, when Boris drove off the apparition of the murdered Tsarevitch Dimitri. At this point, Boris comes running in, shouting: “Away, away, child!” Catching sight of the boyars, he regains his self-control and asks them for advice and help. At this, Shuisky suggests to the Tsar that he listen to a holy man who has come to tell them of a great secret. Boris agrees. Pimen is brought in. Pimen’s tale of the miraculous cure of a sick man at the grave of the murdered Tsarevitch Dimitri, in Uglich, is more than Boris can take and he falls senseless to the floor. Regaining consciousness, the dying Tsar gives his son advice on how to protect his kingdom:
“Don not trust the slander of the seditious boyars,
Keep a vigilant watch over their secret dealings with Lithuania,
Punish treason without mercy, without charity punish it,
Listen carefully to what the people say –
for their judgement is not hypocritical…”
To the pealing of the funeral bell and the chanting of a choir of monks, the Tsar dies. The shocked Tsarevitch Fyodor, having paid his last respects to his father, rises to his feet…And immediately, Shuisky who, unseen, had crept ahead of him, blocks his way to the throne.
Ever since Fyodor Chaliapin’s triumphant appearance in the role at the Paris Opera, Boris Godunov is unqualifiedly considered by Russian and world audiences to be the chief personage of Russian opera and its leading potentate. For the whole world today Mussorgsky’s opera is a key work on the abstract nature of power in general, with no need for concrete historical associations or the literal reproduction of realia. Mussorgsky’s music, with its impetuous boldness, tangible back-to-the-soil solidity and incisive characterization, is of itself sufficient explanation for the tenacity of life of Boris Godunov. But for a longtime it was these very qualities which got in the way of the opera’s production, forcing the composer to compromise, rewrite the score, in an attempt to squeeze his epos into the canon of the usual historical drama. However, the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres rejected both his first and second revisions, passing but separate fragments of the work for performance. It was only Rimsky-Korsakov’s “smoothed down” version which enabled Boris Godunov to become a repertory work — but the whole of the opera’s following performance history is the story of a “return to sources”, of new editions of the score containing the latest musicological research, and, accordingly, the story of changing accents in the staging. However the placing of accents also depends on the personality of the interpreter of the main role. Thus, it is well known, that one of the initiators of the Moscow 1888 premiere of the opera was Pavel Khokhlov, who sang the role of Boris alternating with Bogomir Korsov: the intuitive psychological tension of the first-named was in contrast to the professional melodramatic training of the second-.
But the real triumph was, without doubt, the production with Chaliapin. A worthy foil to Chaliapin here was Leonid Sobinov in the part of The Pretender: the personal drama of the Tsar-infanticide was played out with a soul-chilling authenticity. In the 20’s and 30’s the emphasis was put on the people’s drama: given for the first time at the Bolshoi, was the scene by St. Basil’s Cathedral, with Ivan Kozlovsky as The Simpleton. Each age has produced its great Borises: Grigory and Alexander Pirogov, Alexander Ognivtsev, Ivan Petrov, Yevgeny Nesterenko, and Vladimir Matorin have excelled in this role at the Bolshoi and abroad. Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theatre attracted no less attention from the authorities than did Ivan Susanin. Morals and conscience, relations between the authorities and the people, the seething of emotion, love and ambition, atmospheric genre scenes — each age accentuated something of its own. However, regardless whether it is interpreted as a political parable or a miracle-play-drama, Boris Godunov remains one of the symbols of Russian music and Russian