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Pushkin in operas

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Pushkin's works provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (La Dame de Pique, 1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.

Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel.

Operas based on works A.S.Pushkin

Rusalka is an opera in four acts, six tableaux, by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, composed during 1848-1855. The Russian libretto was adapted by the composer from Pushkin's incomplete dramatic poem of the same name. It premiered on 4 May 1856 (Old Style) at the Theatre-circus, conducted by Konstantin Lyadov (father of Anatoly Lyadov), choreographed by Marius Petipa and Nikolay Goltz, but was badly received predominantly by the aristocracy.


Alexander Dargomizhsky: Rusalka 
The Miller: Yuri Mathiukin
Natasha: Elena Zelenskaya
The Prince: Anatoly Zaitchenko
The Princess: Tatiana Yerastova
Olga:Galina Yerkova
The Wedding Master: Sergey Mursaev
Rusalocka: Anna Stikatirova
Bolshoi Theater Choir and Orchestra
Mark Ermler, conductor


Aleko (Russian: Алеко) is the first of three completed operas by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Russian libretto was written by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and is an adaptation of the poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin. The opera was written in 1892 as a graduation work at the Moscow Conservatory, and it won the highest prizes from the conservatory judges that year. It was first performed in Moscow 19 May 1892.

Mavra is a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky, and one of the earliest works of Stravinsky's neo-classical period. The libretto of the opera, by Boris Kochno, is based on Alexander Pushkin's The Little House in Kolomna. Mavra is about 25 minutes long, and features two arias, a duet, and a quartet performed by its cast of four characters. Premiere    3 June 1922

Modest Mousorgsky

Boris Godounoff

Stage design for Mussorgsky's opera 'Boris Godunov', by K. Yuon, I. Bilibin, V. Polenov, A. Golovin

Boris Godunov, Mariinsky Theatre 

There are half a dozen versions of this opera. Moussorgsky (1835-1881) himself made two; his friend Rimsky-Korsakoff made two; Shostakovich made one a few years ago for Russian opera houses; and John Gutman and Karol Rathaus made still another for the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1953. Each of them differs from the others in which scenes are and are not included, and in the order of the scenes; and the last two versions discarded Rimsky-Korsakoff's changes in orchestration and general slicking up of Moussorgsky's original. 

Actually, for the purpose of telling the story, it does not make too much difference which one we follow. For, whatever way the events are told, this is not a tight tragedy. Rather, it is like a chronicle play-one of the Richard or Henry dramas of Shakespeare. It is a series of scenes from Russian history, and the Russian people themselves, as we see them in the great choral scenes, make up one of the two principal characters, the other beings of course, Boris himself.



Opera in prologue and four acts by Modest Moussorgsky with libretto in Russian based on Alexandre Sergevich Pushkin's play of the same name and passages from Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin's Histогу of the Russian Empire

Boris Godounoff, the Czar
Feodor, his son
Xenia, his daughter
Tchelkaloff, clerk of the Duma
Pimen, an old monk
Grigori, the false Dmitri
Prince Shuiski, adviser to Boris
Marina, daughter of the Voivode of Sandomir 
Hostess 0f the Inn
Varlaam, vagabond monks
Missail, vagabond monks
Rangoni, a Jesuit priest
Police officer

Time: 1598-1605
Place: Russia and Poland
First performance at St Petersburg, February 8,1874


Boris Godunov:

Bass. Regent to the recently dead young Tsar Fyodor (elder son of Ivan the Terrible). The people persuade Boris to be the new Tsar, not knowing he has murdered the Tsarevich Dimitri, who would have succeeded his brother. Boris has two children: his daughter Xenia was to be married to the Tsar, his son is called Fyodor. When a pretender arrives, claiming to be the resurrected Tsarevich, Boris's guilt overwhelms him and he loses his senses, bidding farewell to his son as he dies.
Created (1874) by Ivan Melnikov. 

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov - Long life to the Tsar Boris. P. 1

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov - Yet one more last tale P. 2

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov - I have attained the highest power  P. 3

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov - Ah I am suffocating P. 4

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov - Once at Eve P. 5

Feodor Chaliapin - Boris Godunov -  Farewell my son

Fyodor Chaliapin in the Role of Boris Godunov Painting by Aleksandr Golovin

Grigori - 'false Dimitri':

Tenor. A novice monk, Grigori hears from his mentor, Pimen, how the young Tsarevich Dimitri was murdered. He realizes he is the same age the Tsarevich would have been and determines to take his identity, defeat the present Tsar, Boris Godunov, and assume the throne of Russia. Created (1874) by Fyodor Komissarzhevsky.

Mussorgsky Boris Godunov Marina & False Dmitri Dimitri Dimitry Dmitry

Last minutes of False Dmitry by Carl Wenig (1879).

Marina Mniszech:

Mezzo-soprano. A Polish Princess, who falls in love with the 'false Dimitri'.  Created (1874) by Yulia Platonova.

Marina Mniszech in coronation robes, 1606.

Anna Bernacka - Marina Mniszech (Boris Godunov) "Skúchno Marina"

Grigori and Pimen



Scene 1 Russian history tells us that Czar Ivan the Terrible died in 1584 and that of his two sons one was a teen-age half-wit and the other a small child. Boris Godounoff had been the Czar's closest friend and adviser, and be was made Regent while his sister married the half-wit. The little boy, placed in a monastery, soon died, while Boris's feeble-minded brother-in-law, for whom he was acting as regent, died seven years later without having any children. Now the members of the nobility, as well (some historians claim) as the people themselves, wished the ablest man in the country—Boris—to become Czar. Faithful to the memory of his friend, he at first refused. The first scene of the prologue shows the people, outside the monastery of Novodevichy, being ordered to pray that Boris

take on the crown. The police order them to do this, and so does Tchelkaloff, the clerk of the Duma—that is, Russia's seventeenth-century equivalent of a parliament. Not that the people are very clear about what they are supposed to do: they have to be prompted by knouts and the example of some passing monks. But it all doesn't work. Tchelkaloff has to come out on the steps of the monastery and tell them, at the end of the scene, that Boris remains obdurate.

Scene 2 But Boris did not remain obdurate forever, and the second scene of the prologue is devoted to his coronation. Here the libretto departs rather importantly from history, as many great dramatic chronicles (including Shakespeare's) frequently do. Boris, it now appears, has only made believe that he does not want to be crowned Czar of Russia. Like Shakespeared King Richard III before him, he has plotted for this very end. Like Richard, be has created an artificial demand for his coronation; and, also like Richard, he has had the rightful monarch (the little boy) murdered for this purpose. Now he is about to be crowned. But, unlike Richard, his conscience bothers him. The scene takes place in Moscow in the courtyard of the Kremlin between the two great cathedrals of the Assumption and the Archangels. The people, urged on by Prince Shuiski, acclaim their hero. "Long live the Czar!" they cry. In a somber mood Boris appears. He prays to God for help, for he knows he is unworthy. Anyway, the great bells acclaim him, the people join in a magnificent folk chorus, and the procession moves into the cathedral.


Scene 1 takes place five years later in the monastery of Chudovo. A good old monk named Pimen is sitting in his cell, completing the chronicle of the Czars of Russia. A novice of the monastery lies near him, asleep. Presently Grigori, the novice, awakes. They converse a while, Grigori asking questions, Pimen answering them. Grigori's last question is: How old was the little Czarevitch Dmitri, whom Boris had murdered? And the answer is that he would have been exactly the age of Grigori had he lived. Just then a bell summons the monks to prayer. Off-stage, chanting is heard, and Pimen leaves to join in the prayers. But Grigori remains. He has conceived a desperate idea: he will leave the monastery, and he will proclaim himself as the rightful heir to the throne— the Czarevitch Dmitri!


Scene 2 Grigori has now started on his way to mount the throne of Russia. On the border of Lithuania the jolly hostess of an inn sings a folk song about a dove-colored drake. Presently two vagabond monks come in—Varlaam and Missail— and young Grigori, dressed as a peasant, follows hard on their heels. Already somewhat drunk, Varlaam sings a boisterous song about how Czar Ivan had once killed 83,000 Tartars by exploding mines in their midst. As Varlaam driks more and more, Grigori questions the hostess. She tells him that the border of Lithuania is very close, and that the police are searching for a man who has escaped. Soon the policemen come in, bearing a warrant for the arrest of someone or other.

But, like any Russian police officer of the seventeenth century, the chief one cannot read. Therefore Grigori offers to read the warrant for him, and in doing so deliberately makes the description of the fugitive fit Varlaam. That drunken fellow insists there must be some mistake. With great effort, he himself spells out the description in the warrant, and, of course, it is found to fit, not Varlaam, but Grigori. However, by that time, in the general confusion, Grigori has escaped through a window. They all chase out after him but are too late to catch up.

Part 1: Boris Godunov, Bolshoy Theatre (1954)
Boris Godunov - Alexander Pirogov
The Fool - Ivan Kozlovsky
Grigori - Georgi Nelepp
Pimen - Maksim Mikhailov
Varlaam - A. Krivchenya
Marina Avdeyeva

Directed By Vera Stroyeva
Orchestra And Chorus Of The Bolshoi Opera
Conducted By Vassily Nebolsin


In the Kremlin at Moscow, where the Czars of Russia always lived, we find the two children of Boris with their old nurse. The daughter is mourning the death of her fiance, and the nurse vainly tries to comfort her by singing a fable about a couple of young lovers. Then she turns her attention to the little boy, Feodor. She sings a song to him, too—about a gnat who threw a stick at a flea and hurt himself so badly that he died. Nurse and Feodor then play games together, clapping their hands in time. But when Czar Boris comes in, the games have to stop. Boris turns to the map of Russia that Feodor has been studying from, and it saddens the aging man. Here be has a great monologue. Things are going badly in Russia, both politically and economically. Everyone blames the Czar, who feels guilty, for he still remembers the murdered body of the little Czarevitch. A nobleman enters to whisper to Boris about dangerous intrigues at court, but the Czar dismisses him, turns once more to bis son, and gets some comfort and pleasure from the silly story about a panot that the boy tells him.

The comfort does not last long. Prince Shuiski now enters. He tells Boris about the growing success of a pretender who is raising an army. Boris demands to know whether it was really little Dmitri who had been murdered by his orders. The crafty Shuiski tells him that it was, but that the body did not decay, and that a smile continued to play on its face. The Czar dismisses Shuiski. Then, left alone, he is prey to all his superstitions. His conscience bothers him, and he imagines be sees the bloodstained body of the murdered boy. In an agony of fear, he cries for it to leave him in peace. And the act ends as he pitifully begs for God's forgiveness.


Much of the music of this act - called “the Polish асt"—was added by Moussorgsky in his second version. The criticism had been made that there wasn't enough music for a good leading lady. Moussorgsky agreed.

Scene 1  Dmitri has been making progress in nis effort to overthrow Boris and supplant him. He has reached Poland; he has begun to raise an army of followers; and he has the support of certain Polish nobles, including the Voivode (roughly—Governor) of Sandomir. The Voivode’s beautiful daughter Marina has ambitions to become the Czarina; and in the first scene, after being entertained by her ladies-in- waiting with songs about love, she tells them that tales of derring-do suit her better. After dismissing them, she sings an aria, in the rhythm of the Polish mazurka, indicating quite clearly that it is through Dmitri that she expects to realize her ambitions. Suddenly there appears in her apartment the rather sinister figure of Rangoni, a Jesuit priest, who lectures her sternly on her duty to convert Russia to the true church of Rome once she is Czarina. Marina is terrified.


Scene 2 takes place by a fountain in the romantic garden of the castle of Sandomir. The false Dmitri awaits a rendezvous with his beloved Marina, for whom he once thought of giving up his ambitions. Rangoni appears to strengthen these ambitions, to assure him that Marina loves him despite certain snubs she has had to endure for his sake, and to ask only to be allowed to accompany them to Moscow and be his spiritual guide.

And now the garden is filled with fashionable guests, who dance a polonaise, paying court to and even flirting with Marina, as Dmitri jealously watches. The scene concludes with a long and melodious duet in which Marina alternately repulses and encourages the pretender. The false Dmitri ends by vowing to lead an army to Moscow, and to make Marina his Czarina. As they embrace, Rangoni steps out from behind his hiding place, while the music in the orchestra—no longer on the famous love theme-seems to signify that ibis victory will be, not Dmitri's or Marina's, but that of the Roman Catholic Church.


Part 2: Boris Godunov, Bolshoy Theatre (1954)
Boris Godunov - Alexander Pirogov
The Fool - Ivan Kozlovsky
Grigori - Georgi Nelepp
Pimen - Maksim Mikhailov
Varlaam - A. Krivchenya
Marina Avdeyeva

Directed By Vera Stroyeva
Orchestra And Chorus Of The Bolshoi Opera
Conducted By Vassily Nebolsin


Scene 1 There are two scenes in thе last act, and sometimes one is given first, sometimes the other. It shows how the people are rising to follow the false Dmitri in rebellion against the hated Czar Boris. In the dead of winter, in the forest of Kromy, a ragged crowd drags in a nobleman, bound and gagged. They mock this follower of the Czar, and they mock the Czar, too. The village idiot comes in, and a group of children mock him, for he sings a foolish ditty. Our old friends, the vagabond monks Varlaam and Missail, also join the crowd of rebels. But when two Jesuit priests come in, praying, the crowd turns on them. Led by Varlaam and Missail, the peasants attack the monks and drag them off, intending to hang them.

But now Grigori, the pretender, rides in on a fine horse. All bow to him; he promises to rid them of Boris; and, shouting their allegiance, they follow the false Dmitri. Only the fool is left on the stage. Sadly he sits down; the snow begins to fall; and he sings bis prophecy:

   The foe will come...

   Darkness will descend ...

   Weep, weep, you hungry Russian people!

Scene 2 takes place in the council ball of the Kremlin in the year 1605. The boyars—that is, thе noblemen of the Czar's council—are discussing in a foolish way the revolt of the fake Dmitri. When Prince Shuiski comes in, he tells them of the agony that hе saw Czar Boris suffering a few days before, and be describes the scene in which Boris imagined he saw the murdered Czarevitch. The foolish boyars will not believe him. But suddenly Boris himself enters, deeply distraught. Shuiski calls in an old priest, who turns out to be Pimen, the monk who shared the cell with Grigori in Act I. Pimen tells Boris about the dream of a blind shepherd. He had seen the murdered boy Dmitri in that dream, and the boy had urged him to pray at his grave. So the blind shepherd had gone to the cathedral of Uglich and prayed there; and lo, he was cured of his blindness. Boris hears this tale with growing horror. At its end he cries for air and falls fainting into a chair. He dismisses the boyars and calls for his son, Feodor. The boyars and Boris himself now know that he is dying, and he sings a last and deeply touching farewell to little Feodor. He advises him how to be a good ruler and begs him to care for his sister, Xenia. Then he prays heaven to protect the boy and to guide him.

Off-stage the funeral bell begins to toll, and a sad chorus is heard. Presently a procession of boyars and monks files in, stunned into silence. The once mighty Boris rises to his full height. "I am still your Czar!" he cries, and then, more feebly, “God forgive me. There—there is уour Czai.” A last spasm overtakes him as he still points to little Feodor. And as he whispers, "Forgive me!" he falls back, dead, in his chair—or, as some of the more athletic bassos act it, rolling on the floor.

Fyodor Chaliapin in the Role of Boris Godunov Painting by Aleksandr Golovin

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