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Moussorgsky - Shostakovich

Khovanshchina (1886, orch.1958-59)

Duration: 195 minutes
National music drama in five acts, edited and orchestrated by Shostakovich

Libretto by Modeste Moussorgsky and Vladimir Stasov (R)

2S,M,5T,3Bar,3B 3(III=picc).3(III=corA).3(III=bcl).3(III=dbn)- On- and off-stage band: hns,tpts,trbns This work is represented by Boosey & Hawkes in the UK, British Commonwealth (excluding Canada), Republic of Ireland, mainland China, Korea and Taiwan
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This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the UK, countries of the Commonwealth (excluding Canada) and the Republic of Ireland.

World Premiere
Kononov Auditorium, St Petersburg
Company: unknown

World stage premiere
Kirov Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Leningrad
Leonid Baratov, director
Conductor: Sergei Yeltsin
Company: Kirov Opera

World premiere of version
Conductor: Yevgeny Svetlanov
Company: Mosfilm


PRINCE IVAN KHOVANSKY, leader of the Streltsy MusketeersBass
DOSIFEY, leader of the Old BelieversBass
MARFA, an Old BelieverMezzo Soprano
EMMA, a girl from the German quarterSoprano
VARSONOFIEV, attendant upon GolitsinBaritone
SUSANNA, an Old BelieverSoprano
Musketeers, Old Believers, Maids-in-Waiting, Persian Slaves, Bodyguards of Peter the Great, the People

Time and Place
1682-89, in and near Moscow, Khovansky's Estate

The sun rises over the Moscow river. The boyar Shaklovity prepares a letter to the Tsar and council warning that Prince Khovansky and his reactionary Streltsy followers are plotting against the progressive modernisation of the state. Khovansky arrives and is acclaimed as he denounces the treason of the enemies of the throne. His son Andrei pursues a German girl Emma but Marfa, one of his former lovers, intervenes. Father and son argue over Emma but peace is restored at the appearance of Dosifey, leader of the Old Believers, and Marfa takes Emma into her care. In the house of Prince Golitsyn, the Westernised favourite of the Tsarevna Sophia, Marfa has been invited to predict his future and foretells his disgrace and ruin. Golitsyn meets with Khovansky and Dosifei, but they are interrupted by Shaklovity who announces that the Khovanskys have been denounced as traitors.

In the Streltsy quarter Marfa recalls her love for Andrei and is comforted by Dosifey. The rowdy Streltsy menfolk are incited further by news that the Tsar's troops are advancing on them, but Khovansky advises them to submit to the will of the Tsar and disperse. In the Khovansky residence he is entertained by serving girls, little troubled by warnings about his safety. Shaklovity arrives to summon him to a council of state. As Khovansky prepares to leave he is stabbed in the back by Shaklovity.

In St Basil's Square Golitsyn bids farewell as he leaves for exile. Andrei threatens Marfa for taking Emma from him. The Streltsy enter carrying blocks in readiness for their execution, but emissaries from the Tsar announce that they have been pardoned. The Old Believers, embroiled in the quarrels of princes, are now persecuted throughout Russia and gather at their forest hermitage for the last time. Rather than yield to the approaching soldiers and abandon their faith they would rather die together. Dosifey prays for their salvation and, together with Andrei and Marfa, mounts the blazing funeral pyre. The soldiers arrive to witness the mass suicide and conflagration.

Repertoire Note
A completion and orchestration of Musorgsky’s opera of 1886 for a filmed performance.  In five acts.

Musorgsky’s unfinished historical epic about the Khovansky Affair (the savage political struggle in late 17th century Russia that ushered in the rule of the Emperor Peter the Great) is a deeply frustrating affair. It contains some of Musorgsky’s most beautiful and inspired music, but the composer never managed to finish it and orchestrated only a few small fragments. It is therefore unperformable as it stands.

Rimsky-Korsakov made a long famous performing version, in which he cut and reordered the material to his own tastes. Shostakovich’s knowledge of Musorgsky’s music was unparallelled among modern musicians (indeed he knew much of it by heart). By returning to the composer’s original sketches as edited by Pavel Lamm, he was able to create a modern version that gives us a quite different insight from Rinsky’s into what the opera might have been like had Musorgsky managed to complete it. Shostakovich’s version is tougher, bleaker and far closer to Musorgsky’s own orchestral style than Rimsky’s beautiful but lush and ornate approach.

Shostakovich’s version, although written for a film-version of the opera, has nowadays become the standard text for performance of this piece in the world’s opera-houses.

Note by Gerard McBurney

Dramatic, Tragic

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