Opera Profile: Mussorgsky’s ‘Khovanshchina’

By David Salazar

Modest Mussorgsky is best-known for the opera “Boris Godunov,” but he also created “Khovanshchina,” which had its world premiere on Feb. 9, 1886.

The opera was written between 1872 and 1880 and upon his death in 1881, Mussorgsky left it unfinished. Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored the work, though in years later other composers, such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel, have made their own arrangements.

The opera has never been a repertory staple, especially when compared with “Boris Godunov.”

Short Plot Summary

The opera opens in Red Square with Shaklovity reading a letter to the court that wars of a rebellion planned by Prince Khovansky and the Old Believers. A scribe is told not to repeat what he heard and he signs the letter with a false name, fearing that he might be involved in political intrigue.

Meanwhile, Khovansky promises an upset crowd that he will defend the “young Tsars.”

Prince Andrey, who is the son of Khovansky, chases Emma with the intent of assaulting her. Marfa, his former fiancée, stops him and is then threatened by Andrey. Khovansky decided to capture Emma for himself. Dosifey, the leader of the Old Believers asks the Old Believers to join him in reuniting Russia.

Golitsin, a nobleman asks Marfa to tell him his fortune and she predicts that he will lose power and be exiled. He rejects her prediction and orders his servant to kill her. He is confronted by Khovansky, Dosifey stops them. Marfa is almost killed but she is saved. Shaklovity tells Khovansky that the Tsar is aware of the rebellion and is looking to arrest him.

In a later scene, Khovansky is murdered by Shaklovity and Golitsin is exiled as the conspirators fall. Marfa and Dosifey agree to immolate themselves at the close of the opera.

Watch and Listen

Here is a recording of the opera directed by Valeri Gergiev.

And here is a video of the opera.


Opera Wiki