The Tsar's Bride (opera)

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The Tsar's Bride
Opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Zabela-Vrubel as Marfa 1899.jpg
The death of Marfa, Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel in the premiere
Native title
Russian: Царская невеста, Tsarskaya nevesta
LibrettistIlia Tyumenev
Based onThe Tsar's Bride
by Lev Mey
1899 (1899)

The Tsar's Bride (Russian: Царская невеста, Tsarskaya nevesta) is an opera in four acts by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the composer's tenth opera. The libretto, by Ilia Tyumenev, is based on the drama of the same name by Lev Mey. Mey's play was first suggested to the composer as an opera subject in 1868 by Mily Balakirev. (Alexander Borodin, too, once toyed with the idea.) However, the opera was not composed until thirty years later, in 1898. The first performance of the opera took place in 1899 at the Moscow theater of the Private Opera of S.I. Mamontov.

Rimsky-Korsakov himself said of the opera that he intended it as a reaction against the ideas of Richard Wagner, and to be in the style of "cantilena par excellence".[1]

The Tsar's Bride is a repertory opera in Russia, although it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire in the West.[2]

Performance history[edit]

The Moscow premiere was given at the Private Opera Society, the scenic designer being Mikhail Vrubel. St. Petersburg had its premiere two years later at the Mariinsky Theatre with scenic designs by Ivanov and Lambin. Another notable performance was at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow, conducted by Emil Cooper (Kuper) and with scenic design by Konstantin Korovin, Golova, and Dyachkov. A film version was released in 1966 directed by Vladimir Gorikker.[3]

One noted US production was in 1986 at Washington Opera.[4] The Royal Opera premiere was given at Covent Garden in 2011, directed by Paul Curran, with set and costume design by Kevin Knight and lighting design by David Jacques.


Role Voice type Premiere cast
3 November (O.S. 22 October) 1899
(Conductor: Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov)
Premiere cast
St. Petersburg
11 November (O.S. 30 October) 1901
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
Premiere cast
Moscow 1916 (Conductor: Feliks Blumenfeld)
Premiere cast
14 April 2011 (Conductor: Mark Elder)
Vasily Stepanovich Sobakin, Novgorodian merchant bass Nikolay Mutin Lev Sibiryakov Vasily Rodionovich Petrov Paata Burchuladze
Marfa, his daughter soprano Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel Adelaida Bolska Antonina Nezhdanova Marina Poplavskaya
Grigory Gryaznoy, an oprichnik baritone Nikolay Shevelyov Ioakim Tartakov Leonid Savransky Johan Reuter
Malyuta Skuratov, an oprichnik bass Tarasov Aleksandr Antonovsky Platon Tsesevich Alexander Vinogradov
Boyar Ivan Sergeyevich Lïkov tenor Anton Sekar-Rozhansky Fyodor Oreshkevich Mikhail Kurzhiyamsky Dmitry Popov
Lyubasha mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Rostovtseva Mariya Slavina Pavlova Ekaterina Gubanova
Yelisey Bomeliy, the Tsar's physician tenor Vasily Shkafer Daverin-Kravchenko Fyodor Ernst Vasily Gorshkov
Domna Ivanovna Saburova, a merchant woman soprano Sofiya Gladkaya (Lila Kedrova's mother) Sofiya Gladkaya Elizabeth Woollett
Dunyasha, her daughter, Marfa's girlfriend mezzo-soprano Varvara Strakhova Yuliya Yunosova Konkordiya Antarova Jurgita Adamonyte
Petrovna, the Sobakins' housekeeper mezzo-soprano Varvara Kharitonova Anne-Marie Owens
The Tsar's stoker bass
A maiden mezzo-soprano
A young lad tenor
Chorus, silent roles: Two distinguished horsemen, riders, oprichniki, male and female choristers, dancers, boyars and boyarïnyas, maidens, servants, people.


Time: Autumn, 1572
Place: Aleksandrovsky settlement, Moscow, Russia

Act 1: The Feast[edit]

The Oprichnik Gryaznoi loves Marfa, daughter of the merchant Sobakin, even though Gryaznoi already has a mistress, Lyubasha, whom he has neglected of late. Marfa is already beloved of the boyar Lykov. In a jealous rage against Lykov, Gryaznoi arranges to cast a spell on Marfa with a magic potion from Bomelius, the Tsar's physician. Lyubasha has overheard Gryaznoi's request.

Act 2: The Love Philtre[edit]

Lyubasha in turn obtains from Bomelius another magic potion with which to cancel any feelings of Gryaznoi for Marfa. Bomelius consents, but at the price of an assignation with Lyubasha for himself.

Act 3: The Best Man[edit]

In the meantime, the Tsar of the title, Ivan IV (known as "Ivan the Terrible"), is looking for a new bride from the best aristocratic maidens in Russia. The Tsar settles upon Marfa. At the celebration of the engagement of Marfa to Lykov, everyone is surprised when the news arrives of the Tsar's choice of Marfa as his bride. Gryaznoi had slipped what he thought was the love potion from Bomelius into Marfa's drink at the feast.

Act 4: The Bride[edit]

At the Tsar's palace, Marfa has become violently ill. Lykov has been executed, at the instigation of Gryaznoi, on charges of attempting to kill Marfa. When Marfa learns that Lykov is dead, she goes insane. Eventually, Gryaznoi admits that he had slipped a potion into her drink, and after learning that it was poisonous, asks that he himself be executed. Lyubasha then confesses that she had substituted her potion from Bomelius for Gryaznoi's. In a rage, Gryaznoi murders Lyubasha, and is then taken to prison eventually to be executed. In her madness, Marfa mistakes Gryaznoi for Lykov, inviting him to return the next day to visit her, then dies.

Important musical excerpts[edit]

  • Overture
  • Gryaznoy's Recitative and Aria (Act I)
  • Lyubasha's Song (Act I)
  • Marfa's Aria (Act IV)



A 1930 stage design by Ivan Bilibin


  • 1983: Lydia Kovaleva (Marfa), Yuri Grigoriev (Grigory Gryaznoy), Boris Morozov (Malyuta Skuratov), Evgeny Shapin (Ivan Sergeyevich Likov), Nina Terentieva (Lyubasha), Konstantin Pustovoi (Yelisey Bomelius), Larissa Yurchenko (Domna Ivanovna Saburova), Marina Shutova (Dunyasha), Nina Grigorieva (Petrovna). Orchestra and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theatre, conductor Yuri Simonov.



  1. ^ a b Graeme, Roland (1997). "The Tsar's Bride. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov". The Opera Quarterly. 13 (4): 204–208. doi:10.1093/oq/13.4.204. Retrieved 2007-09-30.
  2. ^ Robinson, Harlow (1991). "The Tsar's Bride. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov". The Opera Quarterly. 8 (4): 112–114. doi:10.1093/oq/8.4.112. Retrieved 2007-09-30.
  3. ^ "Screen: Sound of Rimsky:'Tsar's Bride,' Soviet Film, at Regency". The New York Times. 12 March 1966.
  4. ^ Sadie, Stanley, "Reports: Washington" (January 1987). The Musical Times, 128 (1727): pp. 40-41.
  5. ^ a b Recordings of the opera listed on Retrieved 19 August 2013
  6. ^ Anderson, Robert, "Record Reviews: The Tsar's Bride" (January 1975) HMV SLS 885 (LP issue):. The Musical Times, 116 (1583): pp. 50-51.
  7. ^ Roseberry, Eric, Review of CD set of The Tsar's Bride (1993). Harmonia mundi LDC 288 056/57: The Musical Times, 134 (1804): p. 348.
  8. ^ Pines, Roger (2001). "The Tsar's Bride. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov". The Opera Quarterly. 17 (1): 154–157. doi:10.1093/oq/17.1.154. Retrieved 2007-09-30.


  • 100 опер: история создания, сюжет, музыка. [100 Operas: History of Creation, Subject, Music.] Ленинград: Издательство "Музыка," 1968, pp. 356–361.
  • Abraham, Gerald (1936). "XII.-- The Tsar's Bride". Studies in Russian Music. London: William Reeves / The New Temple Press. pp. 246–260.
  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera New York: OUP: 1992 ISBN 0-19-869164-5

External links[edit]