Composer Modest Mussorgsky

Thursday, 21. February 2008
06:00 pm – 10:00 pm

Duration est. 4 hours · 1. + 2. Akt (est. 06:00 pm - 07:15 pm ) · 1. Pause (est. 07:15 pm - 07:45 pm ) · 3. Akt (est. 07:45 pm - 08:25 pm ) · 2. Pause (est. 08:25 pm - 08:55 pm ) · 4. + 5. Akt (est. 08:55 pm - 10:00 pm )

Prices I

Download Cast List (PDF) To List of Performances


Musikalische Leitung
Lothar Koenigs
Inszenierung, Bühne und Kostüme
Dmitri Tcherniakov
Gleb Filshtinsky
Ingrid Zellner
Alexej Parin
Andrés Máspero

Iwan Chowansky
Paata Burchuladze
Andrej Chowansky
Klaus Florian Vogt
Wassilij Golizyn
John Daszak
Bojar Schaklowity
Valery Alexejev
Anatoli Kotscherga
Doris Soffel
Altgläubige II
Helena Jungwirth
Altgläubige III
Laura Rey
Altgläubige I
Anaïk Morel
Ulrich Reß
Evelina Dobra?eva
Adrian Sâmpetrean
Kuska Strelitze
Kevin Conners
1. Strelitze
Christian Rieger
2. Strelitze
Rüdiger Trebes
Kenneth Roberson
Vertrauter des Golizyn
Kenneth Roberson
To List of Performances

Learn more

Bloody power struggles in dark Russia at the end of the 17th century. Watershed for the society in a strife-torn populace. In Mussorgsky’s musical folk drama political and religious groups face one another irreconcilably. Will the princely Khovansky clan triumph over the Streltsy and usher in the new era? Gigantic choral scenes. Music on the threshold of modernity. Opera full-out!


Past history

Towards the end of the seventeenth century Russia found itself in a state of severe crisis with struggles for power between the old and the new, within both the government and the church. Several decades earlier the official church had imposed reforms in the course of which church registers were altered and rituals changed. The majority of believers refused to accept these reforms; these people were known as Old Believers or schismatics (Raskolniki), were excommunicated by the official church and persecuted. After the death of Tsar Fjodor there was no adult successor to the throne. Two half-brothers, Ivan and Peter, who belonged to enemy camps, succeeded to the throne, but as they were both still minors Peter’s half-sister and rival, Sofia, was made regent. She was mainly supported by the Streltsy, the palace guard, whose leader was Prince Ivan Khovansky and which consisted largely of Old Believers. In order to become sole ruler Sofia provoked the guard to revolt and in the course of one single night most of Peter’s family and confidants were slaughtered.

Act One

The Streltsy are having fun reminiscing about their revolt the previous night. The Boyar Shaklovity, however, is dictating to the Scrivener (the public letter writer) a denunciation of their leader, Prince Ivan Khovansky, who is plotting against Tsar Peter and enjoys the support of the populace of Moscow. Andrei, Ivan Khovansky’s son, is trying to kiss Emma, a girl from the German quarter. Marfa, an Old Believer, whom Andrei has loved and deserted, tries to protect Emma. Prince Khovansky wants Emma for himself and orders the palace guard to arrest her, but Andrei resists him. Dosifey, the spiritual leader of the Old Believers, tries to reconcile father and son. He asks Marfa to look after Emma and reminds everyone that a public dispute about religion can break out at any moment between the Old Believers and the members of the official church.

Act Two

Prince Golitsin, an important member of the government and the commander-in-chief of the army, receives a love letter from Tsarevna Sofia, whose lover he is. In anticipation of a secret meeting with Ivan Khovansky and Dosifey, at which they will discuss plans to overthrow Peter and share power, Golitsin sends for Marfa, who has often predicted his future and now prophesies his imminent fall from power and the end to all hope of victory. In order to prevent a public uproar, Golitsin gives orders that Marfa should be secretly killed. Khovansky arrives and immediately begins to quarrel with him, reminding Golitsin of military failures and decisions he has taken which have humiliated Khovansky. Dosifey advises them to be reconciled and think of the future of the government. In the fierceness of their quarrel the conspirators fail to reach a mutual decision. The quarrel is interrupted by the reappearance of Marfa, who has been saved from Golitsin’s attack by Tsar Peter’s troops. The unexpected arrival of Shaklovity destroys the conspirators‘ last hopes. Shaklovity, who, like Golitsin, is also Sofia’s lover, announces in her name that Khovansky’s conspiracy is known to the court and has been referred to as „The Khovansky Cause“ (Khovanshchina) by Tsar Peter. An investigation into the conspiracy has been set in motion.

Act Three

Marfa is accused of irredeemable sin by several strict Old Believers because of her selfless love for Andrei. Dosifey defends Marfa against these accusations. Marfa confesses to Dosifey just how much this passion causes her pain; the only release she can see would be to burn herself to death together with her beloved. Dosifey tells her he thinks it is too early to give up the fight.
Shaklovity is obsessed with the idea of saving Russia from a government which oppresses her and places all his hopes on a strong single ruler.
Drunken Streltsy approach, singing and creating an uproar which their womenfolk are unable to still. At the height of the brawl the Scrivener appears and spreads panic among the Streltsy with the news of the approach of Petrovsky troops, Tsar Peter’s bodyguards. Ivan Khovansky orders the Streltsy not to resist and to shut themselves inside their houses.

Act Four Scene One

In his own house Ivan Khovansky tries to suppress his fear, which is further increased by Golitsin's messenger arriving to warn him of his imminent fall from power. All attempts by his servants to distract Khovansky fail. Shaklovity enters bringing an invitation for Khovansky to the Tsarevna Sofia’s council. This invitation proves, however, to be a messenger of death for the prince.

Act Four Scene Two

A second conspirator, in the person of Golitsin, also meets his fate; the people of Moscow demonstrate their sympathy as they watch him being taken away into exile. Marfa brings Dosifey the news that the government has ordered all Old Believers to be killed. Dosifey decides that they should all burn themselves alive. Marfa tells Andrei Khovansky about his father’s death and that Tsar Peter’s guards are also looking for him. Andrei does not believe her and accuses her of destroying his life with her sorcery. The tolling of the bells to announce the execution of the Streltsy, who have been condemned to death by Tsar Peter, convinces Andrei, however, that Marfa has told him the truth. He is now ready to follow her wherever she goes. Tsar Peter pardons the Streltsy at the last minute.

Act Five

As they can no longer see any way out, Dosifey, Marfa, Andrei and other Old Believers choose to give up their life on earth and seek salvation in another world.

Dmitri Tcherniakov / Alexej Parin
© Bavarian State Opera



Alexei Parin: In Russia, Khovanshchina is a staple of the operatic repertoire. What attracted you to Khovanshchina, Dmitri?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: When I staged The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, I understood everything immediately, and all my first impressions were ultimately confirmed. I can’t say the same for Khovanshchina. It took a long time for my interpretation of this work to mature. I confess that until 2001, I did not own either a vocal score or recordings of Khovanshchina and felt no urge to make this opera a part of my life. I saw the production at the Bolshoi dating back to the 1940’s several times in the 1980’s. I best remember the grandeur of the performance; back then, something like that could still impress me.

Alexei Parin: What prompted you to seek an inner connection to Khovanshchina?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: That happened about ten years ago when I heard Boris Christoff sing Dossifei in the 1950 Scala recording under the direction of Issay Dobrowen. Christoff’s special timbre, his meditative slowness enthralled me. I felt I had been missing something in Khovanshchina before up to that point. This opera seemed made for me. I began immersing myself in it. But something kept interfering with my consideration of it.

Alexei Parin: The confusion of the plot? The expressive means of the musical dramaturgy?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: I need to grasp the composer’s message emotionally without having to keep picking it to pieces. Yet at some point the moment comes when I begin concerning myself with the individual building blocks of the work, and doing that with Khovanshchina was always hard for me. I started analyzing it over again – and every time, I stopped halfway through.

Alexei Parin: Rimsky-Korsakov not only composed Kitezh, but also orchestrated Khovanshchina. That was the version that ran at the Bolshoi. Did you like it?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Rimsky-Korsakov’s musical language in Khovanshchina always impressed me as too lush. My favorite sequence in Khovanshchina is at the beginning of the fifth act with the low, dark rumbling in the strings. In the Shostakovich version, this passage is murkier and more frightening. It really is a pity that we don’t know how Mussorgsky would have made it sound. Allegedly some drafts of the original orchestration exist; if this is true it would be nice to hear them sometime to be able to imagine the basic mood of the work as Mussorgsky intended it. When we work on Khovanshchina, we have to study different versions, concepts and sketches, otherwise we’ll never get anywhere. Then we have to guess the inner vision the composer had in mind. I think I’ve made good progress with this effort; over the last half year I’ve untangled a lot of confusion. What exists today under the title Khovanshchina, and what Mussorgsky had in mind, are two different things. The opera he intended to write is much grander and more all encompassing, in fact far more complicated then the version that has come down to us. It was supposed to have been a trilogy; in a certain sense it was an attempt to create a Russian Ring. The attempt failed.

Alexei Parin: When we draw a kind of chart of the things Mussorgsky originally wanted to portray in Khovanshchina, what we have today is only a small fragment of what was planned; no comprehensive unity, but rather a collection of unattached pieces put together by hook or by crook.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: The connections between these pieces were exactly my big challenge. Not the narrative connections but rather the structural ones. It was important for me to understand why these pieces fit together, what they have to tell me. What sense is revealed in the sequence? I want to recognize the content behind the story, although many people think the desire to discover something bigger behind the outer events is arbitrary and suspicious. Of course there are works in which I do not see any cosmos behind the music, and then the quest is unnecessary. You shouldn’t erect some dreamed up design where there are no hidden “domes”. But here I needed to walk into this “dome” to come to grips with the stumbling blocks and pitfalls in the opera narrative. I had reflected on them before – what should I do with them? how can I escape them? how can I use directorial inspiration to deal with them? But when I began to understand the design that was taken care of. It is a pity that, while he was conceiving Khovanshchina, Mussorgsky had neither the structural thinking nor the tenacity of a Wagner.

Alexei Parin The problem is that Mussorgsky didn’t leave behind a “distilled” final form he could then insist on.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Of course there is a first plan Mussorgsky formulated when he started work on Khovanshchina. One entire act takes place in the German quarter of Moscow, where Andrei Khovansky visits Emma. Later Mussorgsky cut that scene out completely. There were several genre scenes from Moscow life in the 17th century, but hardly any of them are left over. In the first scene, for instance, Mussorgsky illustrated some entertaining ethnographic details from everyday life in the 17th century. For example, a city lottery, the music for which was used to characterize Ivan Khovansky and the Streltsy. The music of the rolling lottery wheel becomes Ivan Khovansky’s theme. Because of the missing continuity, I needed a long time to find an overriding idea and a main theme. I didn’t even know what my point of departure would be. I found Mussorgsky’s own historical approach unsettling. He seemed to derive everything from a simple conflict. The centuries-old beautiful Russian “still waters” are destroyed by the triumphant ill will of the Antichrist, depicted in the person of Tsar Peter.

Alexei Parin: This attitude goes against the thinking of a person with a European orientation. The “back to the sacred Rus” idea doesn’t apply today.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Nor can Peter be drawn with a single brush stroke. If this is to be the true content of Khovanshchina, I can find no way out of the situation. I cannot advocate an idea that is alien to me. But seeing the classical opera as a musical picturesque schoolbook example from the encyclopædia of Russian history, a bit of historical painting to illustrate what is still happening in Russia today – that doesn’t work either, it doesn’t make one bit of theatrical sense. It may be important to study the historical details precisely, but you can put them aside when creating the ultimate solution.

Alexei Parin: Khovanshchina is essentially a parable; the historical context has lost its significance. It’s obvious that some of the crucial moments in the opera are stereotypical.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Khovanshchina is timeless, like many theatrical dramas – from the tragedies of Æschylos all the way to Shakespeare’s chronicles. These works tell us more about our lives than the “grounded” plays with reference to everyday life, larded with juicy little details. It is important to me to recognize the basic style of each of the six scenes in the opera. When I have worked out how each scene looks from the inside, I can gain access to the individual twists and turns of the plot.

Alexei Parin: “Basic style” means coloring and pitch – but not in a musical sense.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: No, the point here is the musical dramaturgy. I made a specific observation that brought me to the concrete solution for this production. I sensed a kind of current in this work, one that comes to a standstill in the sixth scene. The message of the artist is contained in this seismogram. Many things of this kind seem perfectly obvious to me. The final scene, which centers around Dossifei and Marfa, became the foundation of my entire interpretation. When I grasped the basic style of this final scene, namely the liturgy, I began reflecting on what happens in the other scenes – what, in comparison to the final scene, is their basic style? And then I understood the surge that comes to a standstill in the sixth scene. It is a car careening downhill without a brake. The motion is incessant, nor will it lead to disaster – but it does become suddenly valueless. Other priorities move into the foreground.

Alexei Parin: What do the other five scenes tell us?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Khovanshchina, like the classical tragedies and Shakespeare’s chronicles, is about people dominated by their passions. About an bestial lust for power. It is removed from everyday concerns and typified. All the scenes, with the exception of the last one, have these characteristics. It is an exceptional situation in condensed form. This world is hermetically sealed, we get the impression there is nothing behind it. It seems that everything all around is made up of pure intolerability. The sympathies of the spectator begin to develop only to land right in a swamp, where we don’t understand who is right and who is wrong. The situation is exhausted, the passions have destroyed everything. So what remains? Of course, here I sensed a universal rejection. With a view of the historical chronicles, we can safely say that all the parties to this conflict suffered went down to the same defeat. Even Tsar Peter. There are surmises that Mussorgsky, in response to the criticism of his drafts for Khovanshchina, began to rewrite the libretto. He had, after all, made up the story himself, basing his plot on historical documents – this is the only instance of something like that happening in Russian opera. I even believe he wanted to take historical events that took place over a ten year period and have them happen on a single day.

Alexei Parin: This way many aspects acquire a completely different meaning.

Dmitri Tcherniakov: Yes, for example what happens to Tsar Peter. In the first scene, he is still a small child, and nobody takes any consideration of his will. In the fifth scene, he is a victorious autocrat, who, in the course of only a few hours, consigns whole worlds to the trash heap. He does not appear on stage, but as I see it, his elevation to the throne in this situation is not an unmistakable triumph. At any minute he might cross over to the camp of the losers. The zeal of the various parties has destroyed everything. And so it happens that even the characters who have opted for suicide do not see it as a material phenomenon and a final annihilation. The finale in Stravinsky’s version reinforces this impression. We can sense that they have gathered together to find a way out of an inescapable situation. They feel a thrill because they are approaching another truth. Dossifei senses this and expresses it in his monologue at the beginning of the sixth scene. In that final scene, the categories of the previous plot have no further function. They have been overthrown. The people leave the circle of their lives. They step into another space, in which the categories of their former live have no further validity. They are not afraid of death, their choice is voluntary.

Alexei Parin: They fall into a mystical trance?

Dmitri Tcherniakov: We can describe their condition that way. New truths are revealed to them. While their entire former lives were based on a power instinct and possessiveness, the final scene is marked by the desire to give. Even the tragic story of Marfa’s love for Andrei perhaps finds its solution here. This conclusion illuminates everything with a bright light. It is not a defeat to be followed by eternal nothingness and the kingdom of the Antichrist. With it, the discussion over the importance of history in Khovanshchina becomes superfluous. We are no longer trying to find one side or the other right. Nor is the question of who is closer to the truth, the old believers or the Niconians, of any significance. The ecclesiastical schism becomes a reflection of the political power struggle and moves far away from the essence of religion. In the final scene, a common purpose and love provide a far better concept of God and truth than does the religious struggle.

(Russian-German translation by Sergei Liamin, German-English by Donald Arthur)

© Bavarian State Opera

To List of Performances


Lothar Koenigs, geboren in Aachen, studierte Klavier und Dirigieren an der Musikhochschule in Köln. Von 1999 bis 2003 war er Musikdirektor in Osnabrück, gastierte danach u. a. an den Opernhäusern in Wien, New York, Dresden, Mailand, Hamburg, Venedig, Rom und Lyon. Von 2009 bis 2016 war er Music Director an der Welsh National Opera, wo er u. a. Chowanschtschina, Fidelio, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg und Lohengrin dirigierte. Gastdirigate führten ihn u. a. zu den BBC Proms und zum Edinburgh Festival. Zu seinem Repertoire zählen Werke wie Jenůfa, Elektra, Salome, Wozzeck, Hänsel und Gretel, Le nozze di Figaro, Lohengrin, Die Königskinder und Pelléas et Mélisande. In Symphoniekonzerten war er u. a. mit Orchestern wie den Wiener und den Dresdner Philharmonikern, dem Beethoven Orchester Bonn und dem Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia zu erleben. (Stand: 2019)

To List of Performances