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Boris Godunov

Modest P. Mussorgski (1839-1881)

Opera in 4 acts and a prologue
Libretto by Modest Mussorgsky based on Alexander Pushkin
First performed February 8 1874, Mariinski Theatre, St. Petersburg

Sung in Russian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin

A ruler consumed by guilt, schemers, hungry for power, a fickle people and a monk who writes history, in the true sense of the word.

Boris Godunov is crowned Tsar, surrounded by his rejoicing people, after Dimitri, the legitimate heir to the throne, has been murdered. Egged on by the monk Pimen, who named Boris Godunow as the guilty party in his chronicles of Russian history, the novice Grigori pretends to be Dimitri, who apparently survived the attempt on his life, and claims his right to the throne. While the Tsar grapples with shadows from the past, the people give their support to the new usurper and the »false Dimitri« is crowned Tsar.

Pushkin wrote a play in Shakespearean style in 1825 based on works by the historian Nikolai Karamsin about political unrest in Russia before the first Romanow ascended the throne in 1613. Thanks to Mussorgsky’s opera, which developed events further and accentuated Godunov’s moral quandary and journey into madness, this episode in Russian history became known to the West. The composer shortened Pushkin’s exciting work, giving the loosely linked crowd and intimate scenes, with their harmonic and thematic closeness to folk and church music, including bells, an unmistakable »Russian« sound.

The composer revised his opera immediately after the committee of the Royal Opera in St. Petersburg turned it down because it lacked a lead female role.  He also made its structure less rigid, added folkloric, changed the order of scenes and added the roles of Marina and Rangoni.  But censors prevented this edition from being established in 1882. Rimsky Korsakov and Shostakovitch both reorchestrated the work after Mussorgsky's death.