Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Khovanshchina 

Radio Broadcast of Saturday, March 17, 12 Noon

Broadcast Khovanshchina hdl 1 312
Dosifei, Marfa and the Old Believers sing a final hymn as their funeral pyre is lit (Scandiuzzi, Zajick, Clifton Forbis as Andrei Khovansky)
© Beth Bergman 2012


The 2011–12 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by 
Toll Brothers, America's luxury home builder®,
with generous long-term support from 
The Annenberg Foundation and 
the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media, 
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.


Music by Modest Mussorgsky
Libretto by the composer and Vladimir Stasov
THE CAST     (in order of vocal appearance)
Kouzka      tenor, MARK SCHOWALTER
2nd Strelets     bass-baritone, JEFFREY WELLS
1st Strelets     bass, PAUL CORONA
Scribe     tenor, JOHN EASTERLIN
Shaklovity     baritone, GEORGE GAGNIDZE
Ivan Khovansky     bass, ANATOLI
Emma     soprano, WENDY BRYN HARMER
Andrei Khovansky     tenor, MISHA DIDYK
Marfa     mezzo, OLGA BORODINA
Dosifei     bass, ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV
Golitsyn     tenor, VLADIMIR GALOUZINE
Varsonofiev     bass, DAVID CRAWFORD
Susanna     soprano, MARIA GAVRILOVA
Golitsyn's servant     tenor, JEFFREY MOSHER
Streshnev     baritone, MICHAEL


The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
     and Children's Chorus

Production: August Everding
Set designer: Ming Cho Lee
Costume designer: John Conklin
Lighting designer: Gil Wechsler
Choreographer: Benjamin Millepied
Stage director: Peter McClintock
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Yelena Kurdina,
    Carol Isaac, Irina Soboleva,
    Natalia Katyukova
Assistant stage directors: Yefim Maizel,
     Tomer Zvulun
Stage band conductor: Jeffrey Goldberg
Children's chorus director: Anthony Piccolo
Prompter: Yelena Kurdina
Production a gift of the Lila Acheson and
     DeWitt Wallace Fund for Lincoln Center,
     established by the founders of
     The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.

Revival a gift of The Dr. M. Lee Pearce

THE SCENES  Timings (ET)  
 (Moscow, late 17th c.) 
ACT ISt. Basil's Square 12:00–12:48
ACT II  1:13–2:24
     Sc. 1Prince Golitsyn's palace 
     Sc. 2Streltsy quarter, outside
Khovansky's house
ACT III  2:47–3:06
     Sc. 1Ivan Khovansky's house 
     Sc. 2St. Basil's Square 
     Sc. 3Hermitage in the woods 

Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
     William Berger
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
     Elena Park

For more information on the broadcasts,
     please visit

Send quiz questions to:
     Metropolitan Opera Quiz
     Metropolitan Opera
    30 Lincoln Center
     New York, NY 10023
     or e-mail

This performance is also being broadcast live
     on Metropolitan Opera Radio
     on SiriusXM channel 74.


ACT I. After a prelude depicting dawn over Moscow, a patrol of Streltsy (military police) gathers in St. Basil's Square, boasting of having massacred political foes during the night. When a public Scribe opens his stall, the boyar Shaklovity dictates an anonymous letter to young Czar Peter and the Imperial Council accusing the Khovansky family and the Old Believers, a fundamentalist sect, of plotting to overthrow the throne. The populace hails the arrival of Prince Ivan Khovansky, commander of the Streltsy, who praises his men for rooting out traitors. When the crowd disperses, Khovansky's son Andrei forces his attentions on Emma, a girl from the German Lutheran quarter, who is protected by Marfa, an Old Believer once betrothed to Andrei. The elder Khovansky too is attracted to Emma and orders her taken to his palace. Father and son clash over the girl until Dosifei, head of the Old Believers, intervenes, sending Emma away with Marfa. As Khovansky leads his men away, Dosifei exhorts his own followers to renounce worldliness and guide Russia back to the true path.

ACT II. In his palace, Prince Vasily Golitsyn, counselor and erstwhile lover of the regent Princess Sophia, mistrustfully reads a letter from her. Marfa, who is a psychic, is summoned to cast Golitsyn's horoscope and divines his future in a bowl of water. Horrified by her prediction of betrayal and exile, he dismisses her, ordering a servant, Varsonofiev, to drown her in a nearby marsh. Golitsyn muses on the end of his hopes for Russia, whose links with other nations he had hoped to strengthen. Ivan Khovansky strides in unannounced to upbraid Golitsyn for curtailing the powers of the nobles. As accusations fly, violence is averted by the appearance of Dosifei, himself the former Prince Mychetski, who urges the two to join with him in an effort to save Russia by returning to the old beliefs. As some of his sect pass by outside, Marfa enters, having narrowly escaped death when the czar's bodyguard appeared and freed her from her pursuer. Shaklovity returns to say the czar has accused the Khovanskys of treason, dubbing their schemes "Khovanshchina."

In the Streltsy quarter outside Khovansky's house, the Old Believers proclaim triumph over heresy, but Marfa cannot forget her love for Prince Andrei. Susanna, an Old Believer, berates her for her worldly thoughts, but Dosifei comforts her and leads her away. Shaklovity enters, fearful and praying for Russia's future. He withdraws as the Streltsy rouse themselves from sleep, proclaiming their prowess in drink and battle. As their womenfolk rebuke them, the Scribe arrives to report that foreign mercenaries, aided by the czar's guard, have attacked some Streltsy nearby. At this, the Streltsy implore Ivan Khovansky to counterattack, but fearing the czar's power, he tells them to submit. Terrified, the Streltsy and their wives pray for deliverance.

Broadcast Khovanshchina hdl 2 312
A scenes from the 1999 revival of Khovanshchina: the skyline of late-seventeenth-century Moscow, designed by Ming Cho Lee
© Beatriz Schiller 2012

ACT III. At Khovansky's house, Prince Ivan feasts while serving maidens sing folk songs. Golitsyn's servant enters to say the prince's life is in danger, but Ivan ignores the warning and orders Persian slave girls to dance. Shaklovity then approaches to summon Khovansky, on Sophia's behalf, to a meeting of the Imperial Council. Refusing at first, he relents and dresses in ceremonial robes while his entourage hails him as a "white swan." As Khovansky is about to leave, Shaklovity assassinates him, contemptuously quoting the song of the "white swan" over his body.

In St. Basil's Square, bystanders watch Golitsyn being sent into exile. Dosifei appears, finding divine judgment in the downfall of Khovansky and Golitsyn, who could not rise above selfish quarrels. But Marfa arrives to report that the Old Believers will be next: the czar is sending troops to destroy their hermitage. Seeing martyrdom at hand, Dosifei tells Marfa to bring Andrei to the faith, but the young prince, still infatuated with Emma, refuses Marfa's entreaties until the Streltsy are herded into the square for execution. Terrified, he leaves with Marfa — just before a herald, Streshnev, announces the czar's pardon for the Streltsy.

Outside their hermitage in the woods near Moscow, the Old Believers prepare to die rather than surrender. Dosifei leads them inside, exhorting them to stand fast and ascend to eternal life. Andrei's thoughts are still with Emma, but Marfa tells him to remember their love. As distant trumpets announce the troops' approach, the Old Believers set fire to their hermitage and meet death in the purifying flames.

Broadcast Khovanshchina hdl 4 312
Dosifei, leader of the Old Believers (Roberto Scandiuzzi)
© Beth Bergman 2012


Khovanshchina is a study of Russia toward the end of the seventeenth century, a time of conflict. At his death in 1676, Czar Alexis left a daughter, Sophia, and two sons, Ivan and Peter — both minors, both crowned in 1682, following the short reign of Fyodor III. Ivan, elder of the two, was weak-minded, but Peter, later known as Peter the Great, was a brilliant youth who enjoyed military exercises so much that he established his own Preobrazhensky Regiment, which lasted until the fall of the monarchy in 1917. 

Broadcast Khovanshchina lg 1 312
Dolora Zajick as Marfa in the
Metropolitan Opera's 1999 revival
of August Everding's staging of

© Beatriz Schiller 2012

At the time Khovanshchina begins, in 1682, Russia was newly ruled by a triple regency — Ivan, Peter (age ten) and Sophia — the power resting in the hands of Sophia. Her co-regent was Prince Vasily Golitsyn, a skillful politician with strong European tastes. (It was the age of Louis XIV.) Leader of the Streltsy, or military police, supposedly in charge of maintaining law and order, was Prince Ivan Khovansky, who sought to wrest the czar's throne from the regents for his son Andrei. The term Khovanshchina — "Khovanskyism," or "the plotting of the Khovanskys" — was coined by Peter on learning of this scheme.

In the church, central to Russian life, it was a time of schism, when the Patriarch established strict conformity to Greek Orthodoxy, outlawing many traditional Russian church customs. Large numbers of Old Believers refused to accept these reforms. Mussorgsky created Dosifei as their leader. Perhaps the composer's most interesting invention is Marfa, an Old Believer with psychic powers, engaged to Andrei Khovansky (the Khovanskys are also Old Believers). Torn between passion and spiritual devotion, Marfa embodies the many conflicts that lie at the heart of the opera.

Mussorgsky began Khovanshchina in 1873 and was still working on it at the time of his death, eight years later. Lacking only the finale in which the Old Believers die on their own funeral pyre, the opera was left in piano-vocal manuscript, of which Mussorgsky had orchestrated only a few episodes. His friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov edited and scored the work, as he had done for Boris Godunov, and in his revision Khovanshchina was given first a private performance in St. Petersburg on February 21, 1886, then an unofficial premiere onstage in Kiev in 1892. Its official premiere came on November 7, 1911, again in St. Petersburg. At the request of Diaghilev, both Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel worked on a now lost rescoring. Dmitri Shostakovich's 1958 orchestration, which the Met is using, was based on the Mussorgsky piano-vocal score.

The U.S. premiere, April 18, 1928, was at Hammerstein's Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia. Khovanshchina was performed in English at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during the 1949–50 season, with young Jerome Hines as Dosifei, Lawrence Tibbett as Ivan Khovansky and Risë Stevens as Marfa. When Khovanshchina reentered the Met's repertory on October 14, 1985, in a new staging by August Everding, the opera was sung in Russian. Neeme Järvi conducted the first night of the Everding Khovanshchina, with Martti Talvela, Aage Haugland and Helga Dernesch in the leading roles.

Broadcast Khovanshchina hdl 3 312
Andrei with Emma, the girl he has tried to assault, and Marfa, the woman who loves him (Forbis, Emily Pulley as Emma, Zajick)
© Beth Bergman 2012


For Mussorgsky's life and works, start with Gerald Abraham's chapter in The New Grove Russian Masters I (Norton paperback), then check out Richard Taruskin's Musorgsky (Princeton), a collection of provocative essays (the one on Khovanshchina is also found in the booklet accompanying Abbado's CD recording). The ENO/Royal Opera Guide to the work is apparently out of print. For more about the composer's life, see Alexandra Orlova's MusorgskyRemembered (Indiana).

Recent recordings (3 CDs), like the edition used in the current Met production, essentially follow the Shostakovich edition of the score. Claudio Abbado's characteristically polished Vienna performance (DG) offers close competition to the energetic, idiomatic reading from Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky (Decca). (Abbado uses a less comprehensive text, and he closes the opera with the chorus Igor Stravinsky prepared for Diaghilev's 1913 production.) An acceptable alternative for those seeking a "historic" Khovanshchina is a 1958 radio performance from Rome, led by Artur Rodzinski. Although it is sung in Italian and cut fairly heavily, Rodzinksi's reading is powerfully scaled and beautifully expressive. Naxos's remastering of the rugged 1946 Kirov recording by Boris Khaikin, which preserves the celebrated Dosifei of bass Mark Reizen and the Rimsky-Korsakov edition of the score, is unavailable in the U.S., due to copyright restrictions. 

On DVD, the drama and color of Mussorgsky's drama are best captured in a 2007 performance of Stein Winge's modern-dress staging from Barcelona, well-conducted by Michael Boder (Opus Arte). Another compelling modern-dress version, by the controversial Russian stage director Dmitri Tcherniakov, was recorded in Munich in 2007, with Kent Nagano conducting. Khovanshchina performances led by Abbado and Gergiev are available on DVD; the Vienna staging by Alfred Kirchner, conducted by Abbado (Kultur), offers acting and visuals superior to those in Gergiev's Mariinsky production (Pid). A 1979 Bolshoi performance (Kultur) fields the magisterial Marfa of Irina Arkhipova, then slightly past her prime but still mightily persuasive. spacer 

Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.

Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button