Music by Modest Musorgsky
Orchestrated by Dmitry Shostakovich
Libretto by the composer
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Leonid Baratov (1960)
Set Designer: Fyodor Fyodorovsky
New stage version: Yuri Alexandrov (2000)
Director: Yuri Laptev
Revival Designer: Vyacheslav Okunev
Revival Costume Designer: Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Andrei Ponizovsky and Yegor Kartashov
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Dances choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov
Red Square in Moscow. Dawn. The boyar Shaklovity – a protégé of Tsarevna Sofia – is dictating an anonymous letter to Peter I in which he denounces the head of the streltsys (a privileged military core instituted by Ivan the Terrible) Ivan Khovansky for planning to place this son on the throne and re-establish the old order in Russia. At the same time, the streltsys scouts praise themselves for their recent victory over the loathsome boyars. In memory of these bloody events a column is erected on the square onto which the names of the executed are carved. Strangers just arriving halt at the column. They make the scrivener read out the words to them. In gloomy contemplation they are struck down by the thought of sedition and the streltsys’ despotism.
To welcoming cries from the streltsy Prince Ivan Khovansky appears. He is followed by his son Andrei who is pursuing his love for Emma, a girl from the German sloboda. Through his promises and threats he will win Emma’s love. Marfa, Andrei’s new sweetheart, comes to her defence. Returning, Ivan Khovansky witnesses this scene. He himself has taken a fancy to Emma, but Andrei is ready to kill her rather than let his father have her. The knife held over the girl is imperiously removed by Dosifei, the leader of the dissenters.
The study of Prince Vasily Golitsyn, the favourite of Tsarevna Sofia. The Prince is immersed in gloomy thoughts and he is seized by a fear of the future.
The pastor from the German sloboda comes to him with a complaint about the Khovanskys’ arbitrariness, but the Prince does not with to hear him.
Marfa comes into the chamber through a secret door. Under the guise of a fortune-teller, Marfa predicts the Prince will face disgrace. Superstitious, Golitsyn is left confused. In order to keep the prophesy a secret he orders a servant to kill the fortune-teller, but Marfa manages to conceal herself.
At Golitsyn’s house the opponents of Peter I have assembled. Golitsyn and Khovansky’s talk of hidden rivals who hate and fear one another develops into a quarrel which is terminated by Dosifei. He orders them to control their arrogant pride and think of the salvation of Russia. Perturbed, Marfa runs in. She tells of the attempt on her life and her miraculous salvation thanks to a soldier of the young Tsar Peter. The conspirators hear this name in fear. But there is yet more disturbing news, brought to them by Shaklovity: the Tsar has learned of the plot branded it “the Khovansky Affair” and decreed that it be investigated.
Marfa has come to the Khovanskys’ house not far from the River Moskva. She feels Prince Andrei’s betrayal deeply. Dosifei, comforting her, takes her away with him.
Having woken up, the drunken streltsy give free reign to riotous and reckless merriment. It is interrupted by the scrivener who is frightened to death. A disaster has occurred: mercilessly killing the residents of the sloboda, Peter’s army is advancing. The streltsy are stunned. They ask Khovansky to lead the troops onto the battlefield. Fearing Peter, however, the Prince orders the streltsy to submit and go home.
Golitsyn’s servant warns Khovansky, who has taken refuge at his estate near Moscow, that his life is in danger. Khovansky explodes in fury – who would dare touch him on his own lands? Shaklovity appears with an invitation from Tsarevna Sofia to a secret rendezvous. Khovansky orders his ceremonial clothes be put on. But as soon as the Prince leaves the chamber Shaklovity’s mercenary stabs him with a dagger.
Punishment awaits the other conspirators, too: Prince Golitsyn is sent into exile under escort and guards are given the order to surround the dissenters’ monastery. Andrei Khovansky alone knows nothing of the plot’s failure. He does not believe Marfa, who tells him about the murder of his father, and in vain blows into a horn, calling his regiment. However, when he sees the streltsys being led to their deaths, Andrei understands that all is over and in terror he asks Marfa to save him.
The streltsys are already bowing their heads on the executioner’s blocks, but at the very last minute the boyar Streshnev declares a decree of pardon, having been sent by Peter.
A clearing deep in the forest. Alone, Dosifei laments. He admits the dissenters are doomed. Filled with bold determination he turns to the brotherhood and calls on them to burn in fire in the name of Holy Truth. The sounds of trumpets can be heard from the forest. The dissenters enter the monastery with a prayer and set light to themselves. Along with the whole fraternity, Andrei also perishes, drawn into the flames by Marfa who dreamt of being united with her beloved in death.
Ever since Musorgsky, as he himself declared, “filled in a jotter and called it Khovanshchina” (1872) the opera has been met with both good and bad luck. Musorgsky almost completed the piano score, omitting only a small fragment in the final scene of self-immolation. After the composer’s death the opera was completed and instrumented by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The path to international acclaim was very roundabout: most of Khovanshchina – repeating the fate of Boris Godunov – was performed in the version produced by Rimsky-Korsakov. While paying their respects to this version, starting in the 1950s musicians began to express their preference for the composer’s original score, lovingly restored by Pavel Lamm (1932) and the orchestral score of Dmitry Shostakovich (1959), the closest to Musorgsky’s original idea. In its day the Kirov Theatre was the first to turn to Shostakovich’s version (1960). In December 1988 with the arrival of Valery Gergiev as the theatre’s Artistic Director this production was revived. That was Gergiev’s first major artistic production in his new role.
And twenty-five years after the revival we are again – to use an expression of Musorgsky – “swimming in the waters of Khovanshchina”. Even over such a lengthy period the production has never changed – in terms of the music or the décor. Perhaps this is all due to the magnificent stage direction of Leonid Baratov (1952), an outstanding master of the stage who worked with the USSR’s greatest musical theatres.
The attention to realistic details and the scale of the crowd scenes gave his productions historic veracity and monumentality. Baratov’s Khovanshchina survived Rimsky-Korsakov’s version and the score by Shostakovich (Baratov himself then made minor amendments in terms of the production). For the Musorgsky Festival in 1989 the production was edited by stage director Emil Pasynkov, while Valery Gergiev refreshed musical perceptions, restoring the music that had been unjustifiably cut. The fabled sets by Fyodor Fedorovsky were also restored, continuing in the Soviet era the traditions of the great theatre designers Konstantin Korovin and Alexander Golovin. That stage version was subsequently revived by Yuri Alexandrov and Yuri Laptev (2000).
The Mariinsky Theatre’s repertoire retains the production dating back to the premiere of Khovanshchina at the Mariinsky in November 1911 (Stage Director and performer of the role of Dosifei – Fyodor Chaliapin; Conductor - Albert Coates; Designer – Konstantin Korovin).
It is pleasing that Khovanshchina, although not yet having achieved the same public acclaim as, say, The Queen of Spades or Eugene Onegin, is becoming a favourite of prima donnas and principals.
Yet another – almost the most important – “character” in the opera is the orchestra which sings, at times ideally intoning the vocal parts, the orchestra which towers over the plot of the introduction in Dawn over the River Moskva and the gloomy Golitsyn Train... “For me the sound of the orchestra in the final scene is much more important than all the props on-stage. Is it so very important if the schismatic monastery is on fire or not? I believe that here it is the orchestra that has to be on fire.” These words of Gergiev convey the atmosphere of creative fire that accompanies Khovanshchina at the Mariinsky Theatre.
Today the composer could say with more justification than ever “Today I live in Khovanshchina as I once lived in Boris and I’m still the same Musorgsky...” It’s an opera about age-old Russian sedition, current at all times.
World premiere (Rimsky-Korsakov’s version): 9 February 1886, Amateur Musical-Dramatic Club in Kononov Auditorium, St Petersburg
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 7 November 1911
Premiere of this production: 13 July 1952, Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre (Mariinsky Theatre)
Last revival: 1 May 2000
Running time: 4 hours 40 minutes
The Performance has two intermissions
The highlighting of performances by age represents recommendations.
This highlighting is being used in accordance with Federal Law N436-FZ dated 29 December 2010 (edition dated 1 May 2019) "On the protection of children from information that may be harmful to their health"