Boris Godunov, Opera by M. Mussorgsky

Modest Mussorgsky wrote but a single opera in his life; however, it was enough. Boris Godunov came to define the Russian composer’s career and assumed a life of its own before it was even completed. With a libretto by Mussorgsky himself, based on the play by the great Aleksandr Pushkin, Boris Godunov is an epic story about the responsibilities and temptations of power and the infighting and backstabbing on the way to the coveted throne. The Vienna Volksoper stages this fantastic repertory piece in its original version from 1869 in order to stay as true as possible to the composer’s own creative vision.

Seeing the original version of Boris Godunov is an extremely rare and treasured experience. Upon completing the project in 1869, Mussorgsky could not convince the Russian Imperial Theatres to produce it. Frustrated, he created a second version in 1872, this time based on Nikolay Karamzin’s historical account of the opera’s events. This new Boris Godunov saw its premiere at the Mariinski Theatre in St. Petersburg on 27 January 1874 when it was largely panned by unkind critics. Since then, the opera has rarely been performed in either of Mussorgsky’s variants. It often undergoes cuts, re-orchestrations, and scene rearrangements.

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Dmitriy Shostakovich produced their own supposedly improved editions of Boris Godunov. However, modern times have brought new appreciation for Mussorgsky’s unique compositional style. Volksoper Wien gives the Russian composer his due and honours him with a performance of his magnum opus in its full original glory.

The plot of Boris Godunov is set between 1598 and 1605, or the Time of Troubles. After the death of the old Tsar, the distressed people of Moscow want Boris Godunov to take his place. Godunov himself is torn. Although he had his hand in the murder of the Tsar’s young son, he hesitates to put on the crown. Meanwhile False Dmitriy, another rival for the throne, starts amassing an army at the border... In Mussorgsky’s hands, the drama is simply supreme.

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