- For the 1960 Soviet film based on this opera, see Khovanshchina (film).
Khovanshchina (Russian: Хованщина, Hovánščina, sometimes rendered The Khovansky Affair) is an opera (subtitled a 'national music drama') in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources. The opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.
Like Mussorgsky's earlier Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina deals with an episode in Russian history, first brought to the composer's attention by his friend Vladimir Stasov. It concerns the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers, and the Streltsy against Peter the Great, who was attempting to institute Westernizing reforms to Russia. Peter succeeded, the rebellion was crushed and (in the opera, at least) Khovansky's followers committed mass suicide.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882. Because of his extensive cuts and "recomposition", Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky's vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev's request. When Feodor Chaliapin refused to sing the part of Dosifei in any other orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov's, Diaghilev's company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky's finale, which is still used.
Although the setting of the opera is the Moscow Uprising of 1682, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Tsar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter's westernizing reforms. It received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition in 1886.
Though not as well known as Boris Godunov, this opera is, in some ways, more accessible.[original research?] The pace of the action is slow, but there is more in the way of traditional vocal writing compared to the earlier opera's use of a more speech-like style. The plot of Khovanshchina is difficult to follow, but the story is grittier and the characters are more believable. There are also some fiery set-pieces, in particular the "Dance of the Persian Slaves" and the spectacular mass suicide of the Old Believers in the final scene.
Performance history 
The St. Petersburg and world premiere took place on 21 February (9 February O.S.), 1886 using the Rimsky-Korsakov version. Also in St. Petersburg on 27 October 1893 the opera was presented by artists of the Russian Opera Society.
The Russian Private Opera presented the Moscow premiere at the Solodovnikov Theater on 12 November 1897 conducted by Michele Esposito, with scene designs by Konstantin Korovin, Apollinary Vasnetsov, and Sergey Malyutin. There were 1910 and 1911 productions in the two cities, the first by the Zimin Opera in Moscow and conducted by Palitsīn scenes by Matorin, while the second was at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre and conducted by Albert Coates.
Khovanshchina reached the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1913, where Emil Cooper (Kuper) conducted a Diaghilev production, in a new orchestration written collaboratively by Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. Because Feodor Chaliapin was unwilling to sing Dosifei in any orchestration other than Rimsky-Korsakov's, the Parisians heard a hybrid version which proved unsuccessful, and this orchestration was forgotten. Only the finale, which was composed by Stravinsky, has survived and was published in 1914. It occasionally replaces Dmitri Shostakovich's finale in some productions, such as Claudio Abbado's 1989 production in Vienna.
Also in 1913, it was presented in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It was produced in New York for the first time in 1931.
Khovanshchina was not staged by New York's Metropolitan Opera until 1950, although excerpts were performed by the Met as early as 1919. The 1950 production was sung in English and featured Risë Stevens as Marfa and Lawrence Tibbett as Dosifei. The sets and costumes were designed by the Russo-Lithuanian artist Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. That production received only four performances in 1950, and the Met did not stage Khovanshchina again until 1985, this time in Russian.
The new production was staged by August Everding, designed by Ming Cho Lee, and used the Shostakovich orchestration, with Martti Talvela as Dosifei and Natalia Rom as Emma. It has since been revived several times at the Met, most recently in a 2012 run, during which Stravinsky's final scene was employed there for the first time. Performances of Khovanshchina by visiting Russian companies have also appeared at the Met. More recently, it was performed by Welsh National Opera in both Wales and England as well as at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich under Kent Nagano in 2007.
Khovanshchina is not seen on stage often outside Russia, but it has been recorded complete 23 times, including seven videos.
|Role||Voice type||Moscow cast
Russian Private Opera
12 November 1897
(Conductor: Michele Esposito)
|St. Petersburg cast
Mariinsky Theatre, 1911
(Conductor: Albert Coates)
|Prince Ivan Khovansky, head of the Streltsy||bass||Anton Bedlevich||Kapiton Zaporozhets||Vasily Sharonov|
|Prince Andrey Khovansky, his son||tenor||Pyotr Inozemtsev||Andrey Labinsky|
|Prince Vasiliy Golitsin||tenor||Yekab Karklin||Anton Sekar-Rozhansky||Ivan Yershov|
|Dosifey, head of the schismatics (Old Believers)||bass||Fyodor Shalyapin||Vasily Petrov||Fyodor Shalyapin|
|Boyar Fyodor Shaklovity||bass-baritone||I. Sokolov||Nikolay Shevelyov||P. Andreyev|
|Marfa, a schismatic||mezzo-soprano||Serafima Selyuk-Roznatovskaya||Vera Petrova-Zvantseva||Yevgeniya Zbruyeva|
|Susanna, an old schismatic||soprano||A. Rubinskaya||Yelena Nikolayeva|
|Scrivener||tenor||G. Kassilov||Grigoriy Ugrinovich|
|Emma, a maiden from the German quarter||soprano||V. Antonova||M. Kovalenko|
|Varsonofyev, a retainer of Golitsin||bass||M. Malinin|
|Kuzka, a strelets (musketeer)||tenor||Mikhail Levandovsky||V. Losev|
|Streshnev, a Boyar||tenor|
|Chorus: Streltsy, schismatics, serving girls and Persian slaves of Prince Ivan Khovansky, Peter's poteshniye (soldiers), people|
- Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses
- Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling english horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
- Brass: 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba
- Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam, bells
- Other: piano, harp
- On/Offstage: 3 trumpets, wind band
- Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses
- Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling english horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon)
- Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba
- Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel
- Other: piano, harp, celesta
- On/Offstage: unspecified numbers of horns, trumpets, trombones
Historical basis of the plot 
The death of the young Tsar Fyodor III has left Russia with a crisis of succession. Supported by Prince Ivan Khovansky, Fyodor’s sickly brother Ivan and his half-brother Peter, both still in their teens, have been installed as joint rulers, with their older sister Sophia acting as regent. Sophia has allied herself with Prince Vasily Golitsin, a powerful courtier and liberal politician, who is also her lover.
Due to regulations applicable at the time of the composition of the opera in Imperial Russia, it was forbidden to portray members of the Romanov dynasty on stage, so Mussorgsky had recourse to a series of symbols and indirect mention of main characters in the plot.
The principal theme of Khovanshchina is stated outright in the choral number "Akh, ty Rodnaya, Matushka Russ" ("Oh poor Motherland"), which laments that Russia is bleeding and dying not because of a foreign enemy, but because of fragmentation within. Something like a three-way civil war is in progress, which basically compresses twelve years of Russian history into one telling. Tsar Peter is modernizing, and two powerful forces are resisting his changes: the Streltsy and the Old Believers. The Streltsy are decommissioned elite soldiers/guards ("Streltsy" literally means "shooters", just like "musketeers"), past their prime and on indefinite furlough. They are fanatically loyal to Prince Ivan Khovansky. The Old Believers are Russian Orthodox Christians who have left the state-sponsored church because it went along with Tsar Peter's changes, they also challenge the line of succession to the throne and have denied the Russian Patriarch because of various religious motives. Their leader is Dosifey. Fortunately for Tsar Peter, these two factions despise each other, as the Streltsy are rowdy degenerates and the Old Believers are pious ascetics. Each of the three principal basses in the opera believes himself to represent the "true" Russia against her internal enemies: Prince Ivan Khovansky by noble birth and military prowess, Dosefei by religion, and Shaklovity by supporting Tsar Peter.
Time: The year 1682
In some performances and recordings of the opera some segments are deleted, depending on the interpretation of the original notes, which are described in [brackets].
Act 1 
Moscow, Red Square
In the morning in the Red Square, Streltsy Kouzka sings his drunkenness off while two other Streltsys talk about their activities the night before where they have tortured and killed a German scribe. As a scribe arrives they all pick on him and then leave. Shaklovity, a Boyar and agent for Tsar Peter, enters and dictates a letter to the Tsar, warning of a rebellion planned by Prince Ivan Khovansky (captain of the Streltsy Guards) and the Old Believers; after finishing the letter he warns the scribe not to repeat what he heard. [The crowd enters and they force the scribe to read a new proclamation that has been published in the public square, which describes the attrocities committed by the Streltsy.] The crowd laments the state of Russia. Prince Ivan Khovansky enters promising an adoring crowd that he will defend the "young Tsars", by whom he means Tsar Peter's conservative rivals within the royal family. He and the crowd exit. Prince Andrey, Ivan's son, chases in Emma, a German girl, intending to assault her after he has had her father and fiance deported from Russia. Marfa, an Old Believer and Andrey's former fiancée, interferes. Andrey threatens to kill Marfa, but Prince Ivan returns and decides to capture Emma himself. The ensuing quarrel between father and son is interrupted by the arrival of Dosifey, the leader of the Old Believers. Dosifey berates everyone for being so quarrelsome and un-Christian and asks them all to join the Old Believers into reuniting Russia. Prince Ivan Khovansky takes Dosifey's words very much to his own understanding and leaves with Prince Andrey Khovansky. Marfa leaves with Emma. Dosifey is left alone praying for the future of Russia.
Act 2 
Summer study of Prince Vasily Golitsin
Golitsin, a nervous progressive nobleman and lover of Tsarevna Sophia, (although he mistrusts her) reads letters from his lover [and his mother, who warns him to keep himself pure]. [A German Priest enters to complain for the murder of one of the scribes in his community by the Streltsy and Prince Andrey Khovansky's pursuit of Emma, Prince Golitsin tries to appease the Priest and offers some form of political advantage that the Priest promises to collect later, the Prince wonders about the true motives behind the Priest's actions]. The Prince hires Marfa to tell his fortune in secret. She predicts that he will fall from power and face exile, he dismisses her and orders his servant to kill her. [Once alone he ponders on all the acts that he has made to advance Russia, but is interrupted by] Prince Ivan Khovansky who enters without being announced (a new reform introduced by Golitsin). Prince Khovansky complains that Golitsin has been interfering with his friends in the nobility and diminishing the privileges of nobility and states that only Tartars believe that all men are equal and questions whether Russia shall become "tartarized". A quarrel ensues, [each making insulting remarks about the other's military campaigns], but Dosifey enters and draws their attention away from their argument by criticising both of them: Golitsin for his modern views, and Prince Ivan for letting the Streltsy get drunk and run around making trouble all the time, [in the discussion with Dosifey it turns out that he was once Prince Myshetsky who renounced all worldy matters, to which Prince Ivan Khovansky says that a Prince must die a Prince]. Marfa comes back, there has been an attempt on her life but she was saved by the Petrovskiy (the Tsar's personal army). After her enters Shaklovity, who menacingly announces that the Tsar has been warned of the planned rebellion, and has issued orders to investigate Princes Khovansky.
Act 3 
The Streltsy Quarter, south of the Moscow River
As Old Believers chant a hymn for the future of Russia, Marfa sings of her lost love for Prince Andrey Khovansky. [Susanna, a fellow Old Believer, scolds Marfa until Dosifey appears and drives Susanna away.] Marfa admits to Dosifey that she still loves Prince Andrey Khovansky. Dosifey tells her to pray for relief. They exit and Shaklovity, who until now had been presented as a purely threatening character, sings a haunting prayer for troubled Russia's protection from the Streltsy (he refers to them as "mercenaries") and from the rebellious powers they obey. Hearing them coming he exits; some of the Streltsy enter and sing a drinking chorus followed by their wives who scold them about their drinking. The soldiers ask Kouzka to help them with their wives, he ends up organizing an entire celebration with all the Streltsy and their women. The scribe arrives and informs them that Tsar Peter's troops have initiated an attack on Streltsy—Russian soldiers. The Streltsy call their leader Prince Ivan Khovansky, who enters and begs their forgiveness for declining to lead them into retaliation, but the new Tsar is very powerful, it is better to wait.
Act 4 
Scene 1: A richly furnished chamber in Prince Ivan Khovansky's palace
Prince Ivan Khovansky is being entertained by the women in his retinue but they are interrupted by a servant of Golitsin who has come to warn him that he is in danger. Prince Ivan Khovansky ignores the warning and has the messenger flogged. He orders his Persian slaves to dance for him. Shaklovity enters and tells him that Tsarevna Sophia is asking personally for his help in the Duma, as Prince Ivan Khovansky leaves while hearing chants in his honor, he is killed. Shaklovity scornfully imitates the servants' song over the Prince's corpse.
Scene 2: Moscow. The square before the Cathedral of Vasiliy the Blessed
Prince Golitsin is led into exile. Dosifey mourns the conspirators' downfall and the success of Tsar Peter and learns that the Imperial Council has decreed that the Old Believers are next. He discusses with Marfa that an everlasting example must be set by the Old Believers and agree that they shall immolate themselves. Prince Andrey Khovansky enters and confronts Marfa about where she hid Emma, but Marfa tells him that she is safely on her way back to Germany, her father and fiance. Prince Andrey Khovansky threatens that he will have her burnt as a witch and calls for the Streltsy with his horn but instead a menacing sound is heard. Marfa offers sanctuary to Prince Andrey Khovansky with the Old Believers after she tells him of his father's murder. The Streltsy are led to their execution. Tsar Peter, through an agent, intervenes to pardon them.
Act 5 
A pine forest, a secluded monastery, a moonlit night
Dosifey and his followers have taken refuge in a hermitage in the forest. Although he is weighed down by the sorrows and sufferings of the brethren, he remains defiant and determined to win a "crown of glory" in fire and flame ("Here, in this holy place"). He exhorts the brethren to don white clothing and light candles, preparing for immolation. They enter the hermitage. Prince Andrey Khovansky enters, singing of his lost love, still seeking Emma. Marfa sings to him, reminding him of their own love, and assuring him that she will not leave him. Dosifey and the brethren return, dressed in white and carrying candles. They build a funeral pyre. Offstage trumpet calls herald the approach of Tsar Peter's soldiers. Marfa sings to Andrey of the hopelessness of their situation. The trumpet calls sound again. Dosifey exhorts the brethren to remain strong one last time. Marfa lights the pyre. The schismatics sing a final hymn ("God will save me"). As Dosifey, Marfa, Prince Andrey Khovansky, and the Old Believers perish in the flames, Tsar Peter's Preobrazhensky soldiers arrive in a vain attempt to capture them.
Principal arias and numbers 
Scene 1 — Red Square
- Introduction: "Dawn on the Moscow River", Вступление: «Рассвет на Москве-реке» (Orchestra)
- Chorus: "Make a wide path for the White Swan", «Белому лебедю путь просторен» (Streltsï, People)
- Chorus: "Glory to the White Swan", «Слава лебедю» (People)
Scene 2 — Golitsïn's Study
- Aria: Marfa's Divination "Mysterious powers", Гадания Марфы «Силы потайные» (Marfa, Golitsïn)
Scene 3 — Streltsï Quarter
- Song: "A maiden wandered", «Исходила младёшенька» (Marfa)
- Aria: "The Streltsy nest sleeps", «Спит стрелецкое гнездо» (Shaklovitïy)
Scene 4 — Khovansky's Palace
- Ballet: "Dance of the Persian Slaves", «Пляски персидок» (Orchestra)
- Chorus: "A young swan swims", «Плывет, плывет лебедушка» (Maidens, Shaklovitïy)
Scene 5 — Red Square
- Introduction "The Departure of Golitsïn", Вступление «Поезд Голицына» (Orchestra, Chorus)
- Chorus: "Show them no mercy", «Не дай пощады» (Streltsï Wives, Streltsï)
- March: "March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment", «Марш преображенцев» (Orchestra)
Scene 6 — Hermitage
- Aria: "Here, in this holy place", «Здесь, на этом месте» (Dosifey)
|Conductor and Orchestra||Version||Label|
Kirov Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: D 011 089/94;
Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: D 1712-19;
Cat: LYS 504-506
Belgrade National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: LXT 5045-5048
Sofia National Opera
Svetoslav Obretenov Chorus
Cat: BOA 1439-42;
Cat: 10 789-91
Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: C 10 05109-16;
Le Chant du Monde
Cat: LDC 278 1024-1026
Sofia National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: S3K 45831
Bolshoy Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: A10 00445 006
Orchestra of the Vienna Staatsoper
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
(Recording made at performances at the Vienna State Opera, September)
(final chorus by Stravinsky)
|CD: Deutsche Grammophon,
Kirov Orchestra and Chorus
|Shostakovich (without his additions to scenes 2 & 6)||CD: Philips,
Cat: 432 147-2
Cat: IMM 950014
- Source: Metropolitan Opera archives
- Met History: Khovanshchina
- Professor Irina Ilyovna Vinogradev, CD insert booklet, Khovanshchina, live performance from Moskva 1984, Okudzhava Records, Leningrad.
- Opera Discography: a comprehensive list of all recordings may be found at operadis-opera-discography.org.uk