Mussorgsky – Boris Godunov

Principal Characters

Boris Godunov Baritone
Fyodor, his son Mezzo-soprano
Xenia, his daughter Soprano
Xenia’s nurse Low mezzo-soprano
Prince Vasili? Ivanovi? Shu?ski? Tenor
Andre? ä?elkalov, council secretary Baritone
Pimen, chronicler, anchorite Bass
Pretender (False Dimitri?, Grigori?) Tenor
Marina Mnishek, daughter of the governor of Sandomir Mezzo-soprano or dramatic soprano
Rangoni, conspiratorial Jesuit Bass
Varlaam, itinerant monk Bass
Misail, itinerant monk Tenor
Hostess of the inn Mezzo-soprano
Simpleton (Yurodivy?) Tenor
Mikiti?, police officer Bass

Time and Place

1598-1605, Russia and Poland


Boris Godunov, the regent of the young Tsar Fyodor, has arranged the assasination of the Tsar’s half-brother and heir Dimitri?, in order to seize power. When the Tsar himself dies Boris pretends to decline the crown, but his agents incite the Muscovite crowd to acclaim him as the new Tsar. Though racked with guilt, Boris is crowned. In the monastery of Chudov an old monk Pimen is writing a chronicle of Russia. He tells his novice Grigori? of the history surrounding Boris, and Grigori? resolves to avenge the murdered Dimitri?. Leaving the monastery Grigori? claims to be the dead Tsarevich and with two vagabond friars Varlaam and Misail escapes across the border into Lithuania. In his Kremlin rooms Boris learns of the pretender. His councillor Shu?ski? aims to reassure him by recounting the murder of Dimitri? but this throws Boris into a state of hallucination.

In Poland, Grigori?’s lover Marina dreams of becoming tsarina and her Jesuit confessor Rangoni exhorts her to support the Catholic cause. Marina joins Grigori? in a moonlit rendezvous and she drives him forward with his ambitions.

In the Kromy forest the people are in disordered revolt against Boris but rally behind Grigori?’s call to follow him to Moscow. A simpleton is left behind bewailing the fate of the Russian people. The boyars hold an emergency meeting in the council hall in Moscow and Shu?ski? describes the Tsar’s unstable mental state, confirmed when Boris enters. Pimen arrives to describe a miraculous cure performed at the tomb of Dimitri?, causing the Tsar to collapse. Boris bids farewell to his son, prays for Russia, and dies.

Schematic (Rimsky-Korsakov Edition, 1908)

Scene 1. At the Novodevi?i Cloister
Chorus of Wandering Holy Beggars
Scene 2. Kremlin. Coronation
Act I
Scene 1. Monk’s Cell. Night
Scene 2. Inn near the Lithuanian Border
Hostess’ Song
Varlaam’s Song
Act II
In Boris’ Apartment
Song about the Gnat
Clapping Game
Boris’ Recitative and Aria
Chiming Clock
Scene 1. Marina’s Boudoir. Chorus of Girls of Sandomir
Marina’s Aria
Scene 2. Night, Garden, Fountain
Polonaise with Chorus
Act IV
Scene 1. Near Kromy
Scene 2. Session of the Council of Boyars. Death of Boris
Pimen’s Narrative

image_description=Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) [Source: Wikipedia]
first_audio_name=Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
product_title=Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov
product_by=Nicolai Ghiaurov, Olivera Miljakovic, Nadejda Dobrianowa, Nikolai Gjuselev, Sena Jurinac. Ballett der Salzburger Festspiele, Kammerchor der Salzburger Festspiele, Chorus of the Croatian National Opera Zagreb, Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan (cond.)
Live performance circa 1965
Click here for the complete cast list.
product_id=Above: Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) [Source: Wikipedia]