St Petersburg, Mariinsky II

The Tsar's Bride

Opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Performed in Russian
(the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)

Performance by the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre
Rimsky-Korsakov – 175


Opera soloists of the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre:
Vassily Sobakin: Yevgeny Plekhanov
Marfa: Anastasia Kikot
Grigory Gryaznoy: Vyacheslav Vasilyev
Malyuta Skuratov: Sergei Pleshivtsev
Ivan Lykov: Roman Krukovich
Lyubasha: Laura Bustamante
Eelisey Bomely: Alexei Kostyuk

Chorus of the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Pavel Smelkov

Age category 12+


Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Libretto by Ilya Tyumenev based on a scenario by the composer after the drama by Lev Mey

Musical Director: Pavel Smelkov
Stage Director: Vyacheslav Starodubtsev
Set and Costume Designer: Pyotr Okunev
Lighting Designer: Sergei Skornetsky
Video Designer: Vadim Dulenko
Assistant Director for Choreography: Sergei Zakharin
Musical coach: Irina Soboleva
Musical Preparation: Olga Krukovich
Principal Chorus Master: Larisa Shveikovskaya


Act I

The oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoi is expecting guests whom he has invited with the secret thought of gaining the trust of Ivan Lykov and being introduced to Bomely the German physician as soon as possible. Ivan Lykov is the groom of the beautiful Marfa Sobakina with whom Gryaznoi is in love.

The times when Gryaznoi enjoyed taking any girl by force who took his fancy. Now he is truly in love but Marfa’s father has declined him point-blank; his daughter is promised in marriage to Ivan Lykov who has recently returned from abroad. Gryaznoi doesn’t yet know what he will do but he is determined the marriage will not take place.

The oprichnik guests assemble, led by the mighty Malyuta Skuratov Lykov and Bomely. Singers entertain Gryaznoi’s guests with singing and dancing. When the guests depart Bomely alone remains behind at the host’s request. Gryaznoi asks him for a love-philtre. Lyubasha, Gryaznoi’s lover, overhears their conversation. After Bomely departs she tries to hold on to Gryaznoi and revive his love, but in vain.

Act II

An autumn morning. In fear, the people walking in the garden make way for the oprichniks who appear and they discuss the impending inspection of the Tsar’s bride, for which beautiful girls from all over Russia have been brought. Midday. Marfa and her friend Dunyasha Saburova and the drynurse Petrovna are returning home. They are met by several horsemen, one of whom is Ivan the Terrible. Marfa does not recognise the Tsar, though she is frightened by his fixed stare.

In secret, Lyubasha is spying on Marfa and Dunyasha. She is staggered by Marfa’s beauty and realises she cannot compete with her. Lyubasha asks Bomely for some poison to kill her rival. In exchange for the poison Bomely wants to spend the night with Lyubasha. Mad with grief and abandoned by her lover she agrees.


Sobakin is receiving guests at home – Lykov and Grigory Gryaznoi, who has asked insistently to be the groom’s best man. They wait for the girls who are due home at any moment with Dunyasha Saburova’s mother from the Tsar’s inspection of the brides. Domna Saburova enters and hurriedly begins to relate how long the Tsar spoke with her Dunyasha and merely gave Marfa a quick glance. Believing that the Tsar has chosen someone else, Sobakin decides to celebrate his daughter’s engagement to Lykov. As best man, Grigory fills the prospective bride and groom’s glasses with wine and, unnoticed, slips the potion he received from Bomely into the glass intended for Marfa; he is unaware that Lyubasha has substituted the potion with another. In line with custom the glasses must be drained. But the bride doesn’t even manage to put down her empty glass before the boyars appear and declare that the Tsar has chosen Marfa Sobakina for his bride.

Act IV

Vasily Sobakin is deep in thought: his daughter was unexpectedly and strangely taken ill soon after she was announced as the Tsar’s bride. Gryaznoi appears. In the name of the Tsar he declares that under torture Lykov admitted poisoning Marfa and has been executed. On hearing this terrible news Marfa loses her senses. It seems to her that she is in the garden with her beloved. Turning to Gryaznoi, she calls the oprichnik Vanya, dreams of her marriage to him and remembers being chosen as the Tsar’s bride only as a terrible dream. Grigory cannot bear this heart-rending scene and publicly repents of the evil deed he has committed: it was he who gave Marfa the philtre and slandered his rival! Lyubasha appears. Crying out, she admits that she replaced the love-philtre with poison. Gryaznoi stabs Lyubasha to death. He bids farewell to Marfa and is led away.

About the production

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ninth opera, one of his great favorites, was premiered on the threshold of the 20th century when the composer had been already known well as “the greatest fantasist” in Russian music. Truly Verdi’s passions running high on the stage astonished the audience and caused some contemporaries to reproach Rimsky-Korsakov with self-betrayal. Nevertheless, the composer kept saying that the openness of any drama expressible through singing was a recipe for success and future existence of the opera. His case has been proved by history, and The Tsar’s Bride remains among the most beloved opera repertoire of many theatres.

Referred to one of the most murderous epochs in the Russian history, Lev Mei’s verse drama interested Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for a long time. In the play, the sudden death of Ivan the Terrible’s young wife soon after their marriage is not taken as a historical event but interpreted romantically. The heroes’ fatal love puts them up to commit various crimes (including murders, slanders and poisonings) and leads them up to a tragic end. Marfa’s final madness is traced back to well-known mad scenes from Italian romantic operas.

However, the human tragedy, which is set under unhuman conditions of authorities’ abuses and outrages, is an all-time theme. The Primorsky Stage production underscores a nature and dynamics of the operatic events. The staging space is narrowed towards the back looking like a cage within which the most of action happens. Due to the visual constriction and greyly dark colors, the audience is under the impression of a lack of air or freedom. The light score of the performance closely follows the development of the drama. In the final scene, when Marfa slowly goes to the back and steps up stairs, her head is outlined against a nimbus or martyr’s circlet.

In the opera performance the Tsar is dehumanized, and this is expressed by his acting as a mimic character not uttering a single word. Besides, he appears hidden behind his golden apparel and mask.

The staging design may be called historic. However, in no case the production is analogous to a renewal of the old performance. The organic fusion of tradition and modernity results in the constructive and pictorial elements of the sets and the brilliantly designed costumes in which precise historical details such as ornaments, kokoshniks and headdresses are combined with symbolic ones different in forms and sizes. Video projections help to maintain event energy to read senses.

The Director develops a specifically actual character of any hero’s actions. He tests all characters’ proposed motives and situations with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s music and is not contradictory with the contemporary scenic language or forms. The most important points of opera dramaturgy are given interesting stage-setting solutions, for example, in the finale the both heroines, Marfa and Lyubasha, are identified with each other, and their identification underlines the nature of their sacrifice.

Nadezhda Koulygina

World premiere: 22 October 1899, The Russian Private Opera (Mamontov Theatre), Moscow
Premiere at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre: 11 September 2018, Vladivostok

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes
The performance has two intervals

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