Opera in 4 parts (original 1868/69 version)
Composer Modest Mussorgsky · Libretto by the composer after the correspondent drama by Alexander Puschkin and Nikolay Karamzin's "History of the Russian State"
In Russian with German and English surtitles
Saturday, 18. April 2020
12:00 pm – 02:00 pm
Duration est. 2 hours
Video-on-Demand via STAATSOPER.TV
This video-on-demand is available free of charge on STAATSOPER.TV from 18 April 2020, 12.00 pm to 2 May 2020, 11.59 am.
Child murder, scheming monks and a tsar lapsing into madness – Modest Mussorgsky spread the thematic arc wide in his choral opera, which he began to work on from 1868, and with which he attempted to awaken an awareness of his own time through the indirect route of a historic story. As an artist of the 19th century, he was driven by the psychology of the masses. Thus, in Boris Godunov, alongside the hero of the title, the main role is actually taken primarily by the Russian people, rejoicing, starving, demanding and questioning. "Uncovering the fine features of human nature and the mass of humanity, stubbornly drilling in these unexplored regions and conquering them – this is the mission of the true artist. Onward to new shores!“
A crowd of people are demonstrating. Under the orders of the police officer Nikititch they are being brutally forced to chant a petition to Boris Godunov in an attempt to persuade him to become the successor of Fyodor I. For in spite of his years of experience as the actual regent at the side of the recently deceased Tsar, he is refusing to accept the crown. Chelkalov, the clerk of the Duma, is manipulating the crowd with words. He supports them in their demonstration, for Boris alone, he says, can protect Russia from misfortune and lawlessness. One member of the crowd rebels: Mityucha provokes the authorities and is beaten. Nikititch announces that the people are to turn up again the following day for another demonstration in the Kremlin, in accordance with a boyar edict.
Led by the boyar Prince Vassily Schuisky, the crowd cheers the new Tsar Boris Godunov. Full of misgivings and apprehension as to the future, he bows to his predecessors and invites the whole population to the coronation.
While Pimen works on the final chapter of the chronicle of the history of his country he ruminates deep into the night about the value and purpose of historiography. The final chapter is about the events in Uglich: rumour has it that, in order to secure his power, Boris Godunov has had Dimitri, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, murdered in exile.
Pimen’s young pupil. Grigory Otropyev, describes the dream which haunts him regularly: a sudden fall from a high tower in Moscow. Pimen warns him against the hot-headedness of youth and tells him about his own turbulent past. This makes Grigory feel all the more strongly that his life has so far been unimportant and dreary. Pimen encourages him to continue along the path he has taken. In the course of the conversation reference is made to Boris Godunov, who in Pimen’s eyes is the murderer of Dimitri. Grigory finally dares to ask about the events in Uglich: Pimen, who was there, saw the corpse and heard the wondrous confession of the captured murderers, who named Boris Godunov as the person on whose instructions they had acted. When asked about the age of the murdered Tsarevitch, Pimen says that he would have been about the same age as Grigory is now. Pimen hands over his life’s work to his pupil and goes to attend morning mass. Grigory decides that he will take revenge on Boris.
The two vagabonds Missail and Varlaam meet Grigory in an inn. The latter has fled from the monastery and intends to pretend to be Dimitri in order to challenge Boris for the throne. He hopes that, over the border, he will find people to support him in his struggle against Boris. Grigory learns from the hostess at the inn that the border is strictly guarded: they are looking for someone who has fled from Moscow.
Guards search the inn. Grigory has to read aloud the warrant and cleverly throws suspicion onto Varlaam. The latter realises how serious the situation is and with great difficulty spells out the true contents of the warrant. But Grigory manages to escape.
Boris Godunov has now been on the throne for six years. His daughter Xenia is in despair, she is mourning the death of the man she was to marry. His son Fyodor, the future Tsar, is busy poring over the map of his country. The nurse tries to get the situation under control and comfort Xenia. Boris is tormented by the question of whether his children will have to atone for the burden of the guilt which he believes he has placed himself under. His reign has so far been overshadowed by famine and catastrophes. Although he always only wanted the best for his country he was denied acceptance and recognition and he senses that the people are not on his side. He cannot help thinking that the reason for his political weakness is to be sought in the events of Uglich and the rumours circulating around them. The image of the murdered Tsarevitch appears before his inner eye.
A boyar-in-waiting announces the arrival of Prince Shuisky and passes on the secret information that the long-standing enemy of Boris is planning a conspiracy. Shuisky informs Boris about a serious threat to his rule: a „false Dimitri“, a pretender, has turned up and already has the nobility and the clergy on his side. Shuisky is then ordered to describe what happened at Uglich in full detail once again and testify that he saw the corpse of the Tsarevitch. Once again assailed by a vision of the Tsarevitch, Boris suffers a panic attack.
The people are starving, the country is still in crisis. There is talk and speculation: about Grigory Otrepyev being declared an anathema, someone banned from the church, about his true identity and about a possible victory for Grigory’s troops over Boris’ army. Finally everyone is agreed that Grigory must be the „real Dimitri“.
A crowd of children are mocking and tormenting a simpleton. While the people are begging Boris Godunov to provide them with food and money, the simpleton begs him to kill the children just as he had once dealt with the Tsarevitch. Shuisky does not want to allow this ignominy to go unpunished, but Boris intervenes and asks the simpleton to pray for him. The simpleton, however, refuses to do this for a second Herod.
The Duma, the council of the boyars, assembles. The conspiracy takes its course. The boyars vote on a Tsarist edict and vote in favour of the demand for a condemnation of the „false Dimitri“. But Shuisky is absent. When he finally arrives he is suspected of having incited the people against Boris. He contradicts this pretentiously and expresses his worry about Boris Godunov’s health and his ability to continue to run the country. While Shuisky is still telling them about Boris’ panic attack, which he chanced to witness, Boris himself enters the chamber. He again has to struggle with the vision of the Tsarevitch. Boris becomes aware of the boyars and struggles to regain his composure. Shuisky arranges for Pimen to be admitted and tell the Tsar a strange story about the things that happened at Dimitri’s grave. Boris Godunov suffers a further panic attack. He sends for Fyodor to prepare him for his future life as Tsar. He warns him urgently to be beware of the intrigues of the boyars. He dies believing that he has handed over the power to Fyodor.