Boris Godunov
  • Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. Opera in seven scenes. 1869.
  • Revised version in four acts and a prologue. 1872, further rev. 1873.
  • Libretto by the composer, after Pushkin’s tragedy, with historical information drawn from the work of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Karamzin.
  • First performance, of the revised version, at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, on 8th February 1874.
CHARACTERS
Boris Godunov bass or baritone
Fyodor, his son mezzo-soprano
Xenia, his daughter soprano
Her old wet-nurse mezzo-soprano
Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shouysky tenor
Andrey Shchelkalov, clerk to the Duma baritone
Pimen, monk and chronicler bass
Pretender, the false Dmitry, Grigory tenor
Marina Mniszek, a Polish princess mezzo-soprano
Rangoni, a Jesuit bass
Varlaam, a vagabond bass
Missail, a vagabond tenor
Hostess of the inn mezzo-soprano
Nikitich, a constable bass
Yurodiviy, the simpleton (Holy Fool) tenor

Boris Godunov has had the rightful heir to the empire, Dmitry, murdered and now is proclaimed Tsar. Time passes and Russia is in turmoil, in spite of the Tsar’s efforts to rule well. In a monastery cell the monk Pimen, who has been writing a history of the times, tells his young novice Grigory of the events leading to the triumph of Boris. Grigory, now inspired to seek justice and identifying himself with the murdered prince, is sought by the authorities, but seeks to cast suspicion on the disreputable wandering monk Varlaam. Boris Godunov, in the Kremlin palace, suffers torments of remorse, as revolt threatens from Poland. There the pretender Dmitry declares his love for Marina Mniszek, and they are urged by the Jesuit Rangoni to march on Moscow, leading an army of Polish nobles. In the Kremlin Boris is haunted by his fears, more so when he learns of miracles worked at the grave of Dmitry, the boy whose murder had brought him the throne. As monks chant their prayers and the council of boyars gather round him, Boris dies. In a final scene the pretender Dmitry leads his army to victory, while the Simpleton laments the fate of Russia.

The two versions of Boris Godunov differ in many respects. In addition to the revision, the work was re-scored by Rimsky-Korsakov for performance in 1896. The first version ends with the death of Boris, while the Polish scenes and the final success of the false Dmitry belong to the later version, although in this the two scenes of the fourth act are often reversed, to allow the opera still to close with the death of Boris. The opera provides a major role in that of Boris Godunov, famously taken by singers such as Chaliapin, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Boris Christoff. In whatever version it is a monumental element in Russian operatic
repertoire.