Opera Scotland

Khovanshchina The Khovansky Plot

Tours by decade

1960s - 1 tour

1962 - Belgrade Opera
Fully Staged with Orchestra

1990s - 1 tour

1991 - Kirov Opera, Leningrad
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location

Modest Petrovich Musorgsky (born Karevo, nr Pskov, 21 March 1839; died St Petersburg, 28 March 1881)

The composer and Vladimir Stassov.


Rimsky-Korsakov edition:
First performance: St Petersburg (Kononov Auditorium), 21 February 1886.
First UK performance: London (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), 1 July 1913.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), August 1962 (probably earlier).
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

Shostakovich edition:
First performance: Leningrad (Kirov Theatre), 25 November 1960.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 1963.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Playhouse), 10 August 1991.
Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

At the time of his death, Musorgsky left his draft of Khovanshchina in an unfinished state. Two attempts have been made to orchestrate it and prepare it for performance. Rimsky’s is now almost entirely replaced by the Shostakovich version, which is far closer in style to other orchestrated works of Musorgsky. The complexities of the historical subject were studied in depth by Musorgsky, and concern the extensive social and religious reforms introduced by Peter the Great in the late seventeenth century, around 1682-89. Golitsyn represents the new westernised reformers. The Khovanskys are the old feudal aristocracy, opposed to the social changes, and the Old Believers are fighting against religious reforms. None of them end happily.

Main Characters
Shaklovity, a Boyar (baritone)
Prince Ivan Khovansky, leader of the Streltsy (bass)
Prince Andrei Khovansky, his son (tenor)
Emma, a young Lutheran (soprano)
Marfa, a young widow, an Old Believer (contralto)
Dosifei, a monk, leader of the Old Believers (bass)
Prince Vasily Golitsyn (tenor)
A Lutheran pastor (baritone)
Susanna, an Old Believer (soprano)

Plot Summary
The Khovanskys are rumoured to be plotting against the government’s reforms. Andrei has abandoned his old lover Marfa, and is pursuing Emma. During a meeting between Ivan, Dosifei and Golitsyn, Shaklovity brings news than Peter’s troops have arrived in Moscow and the Khovanskys are regarded as traitors. Ivan returns to his estate outside Moscow, but there he is assassinated. Golitsyn is condemned to exile. The Old Believers, including Dosifei, Marfa, and Andrei, choose martyrdom rather than submit to the religious reforms, and they immolate themselves.


PHILIPS (3 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1991

Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Kirov Orchestra, St Petersburg
Olga Borodina (Marfa), Nikolai Ohotnikov (Dosifei), Bulat Minjelkiev (Ivan Khovansky),

Both Philips and DG recordings are excellent using the Shostakovich version. Perhaps for Scottish audiences if anything tips the balance in favour of the Kirov recording it is the fact that the 1991 Edinburgh Festival saw a visit by the company when they performed all Musorgsky’s operatic works. The fragments, such as Salammbo and Sorochintsy Fair were done in concert, as was Boris Godunov. However Khovanshchina was fully staged at the Playhouse (only a year or two before the restoration of the Festival Theatre). The Edinburgh performances were double cast, so all these singers appeared in one or other performance. The great discovery of the visit was the glorious Olga Borodina, who immediately became a major star. Other members of the cast include the excellent tenors Vladimir Galusin (Andrei) and Alexei Steblianko (Golitsyn) and Elena Prokina as Emma.

DG (3 CDs) Sung in Russian Recorded 1989

Conductor: Claudio Abbado,
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Marjana Lipovsek (Marfa), Paata Burchuladze (Dosifei), Auge Haugland (Ivan Khovansky),

This set, recorded live in Vienna, has the interesting idea of restoring the final scene as arranged by Stravinsky in 1913 (commissioned by Diaghilev). It is surprisingly different and very effective. The performance is excellent – Abbado long an expert at performing Boris Godunov, takes to the less familiar work easily and the Vienna orchestra produces wonderful sound. There is a bit of noise from the performers clumping about on stage, but nothing distracting. Other members of the excellent cast include Vladimir Atlantov (Andrei), Vladimir Popov (Golitsyn), Anatoli Kotscherga (Shaklovity), and Joanna Borowska as Emma.

The Cast

 leader of the Old Believers
 a young Lutheran woman
First Musketeer
 a Musketeer
 an Old Believer
Prince Andrei Khovansky
 son of Ivan
Prince Ivan Khovansky
 leader of the Musketeers
Prince Vasily Golitsyn
Second Musketeer
 a Boyar
 a Boyar
 an Old Believer
 attendant upon Golitsyn

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