The Tsar's Bride


Libretto by Ilya Tyumenev based on the same name drama by Lev Mei

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Musical Director of the Production – Kirill Tikhonov
Conductors – Vladimir Ponkin, Evgeny Brazhnik
Set and Costume Designers – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubyeva
Light Designer – Denis Yenyukov
Plastique and Stage Movement Director – Yuri Ustyugov
Playing time – 2 hours (one intermission)
Premiere – September 6,1997
Language of performance – Russian

Searing love, wild jealousy, poisonous revenge, evil greed – people of any time are always corrupted by these feelings. Shakespeare once brilliantly described this side of human nature, that it is now referred to as "Shakespearean passions".

Real Shakespearean passions burst out in the opera "The Tsar's Bride" by Rimsky-Korsakov. Love, passion, jealousy, envy, and - as a result - a crime... Tragic story of the dark age of Ivan the Terrible impresses everybody even in the XXI century. "The performance in "Helikon-Opera" is modern and provocatively beautiful, - comments People's Artist of Russia Yuri Vedeneev. - Dmitry Bertman’s daring decisions and light plot strengthen the effect of Rimsky-Korsakov’s music and create the atmosphere of a fearsome, inevitable force that destroys fragile human identity. This is a fantastic job of "Helikon-Opera!".

"I admire the color scheme of the play: gold, scarlet and black, - adds Svetlana Varguzova, People's Artist of RSFSR. – The final Marfa’s aria pierces to the pain and leaves a sense of bitter loss. It was a great pleasure for me!"

"This is an exciting erotic-psychological drama about passionate love, doomed to death in conditions of a strict totalitarian system. The performance is overwhelming," - says Ekaterina Kretova in "Moskovsky Komsomolets". But is everything that simple? It is up to you.


The plot of drama “The Tsar’s Bride” by Lev Aleksandrovich Mei provoked interest in Rimski-Korsakov yet in his young days. In “Chronicle of My Musical Life” Nikolai Andreevich wrote about winter of 1867/68 the following: “At Borodin’s we looked through the score of his symphony, talked about “Knyaz Igor” and “The Tsar’s Bride”, the wish to compose which had been first a Borodin’s fleeting dream of a composer and then mine some time ago”. He might mistake: the conception of “Knyaz Igor” relates to 1869. It is proven that Rimski-Korsakov turned to “The Tsar’s Bride” in February 1898. The script was developed by the composer himself, while the libretto was written by his student Ilya Fyodorovich Tyumenev.

The Mei’s drama was inspired by true events. Among its sources is “The History of the Russian State” by Nikolay Mikhailovich Karamzin, who told about Ivan the Terrible the following way: “Being bored with his widowerhood, though not celibate, he had already long been looking for the third wife… The brides from all the Russian cities both noble-born and simple in number of over two thousand were brought to the Alexandrov Kremlin: each one was personally introduced to him. First he chose a 24-year-old one, then a 12-year-old… he was comparing their beauty, manners and intellect for a long while; finally he preferred Marfa Vasilyevna Sobakina to the others, a daughter of a Novgorod merchant, at the same time he chose the bride for the senior prince — Evdokia Bogdanovna Saburova. The fathers of the lucky beauties suddenly became boyars from nothing… Beside the titles they also got the wealth, opal mining, estates, taken away from the ancient knyaz and boyar families. But the tsar’s bride fell sick, began to thin and dry: people said she had been spoilt by the malefactors, who hated Ivan… A wicked slanderer doctor Yelisey Bomelius… had offered the Tsar to poison the malefactors and composed, as people said, a poisonous philtre so craftily, that the poisoned person died exactly in a designated minute. Ivan executed one of his favorites Grigory Gryaznoy this way… and many others, who were accused of the participation in the poisoning of the tsar’s bride…” The author completed the play in 1849 and it became ingrained in the repertoire of the Russian theatres. One of the outstanding performers of Marfa was Maria Nikolaevna Yermolova. But the popular drama was eclipsed by the same name opera by Rimski-Korsakov, appeared in a half-century. 

There were no significant changes in the plot; many verses of the drama were included in the libretto. Two new episodes appeared: the scene, when Grozny meets with Marfa and the scene of the crapulence of the oprichniks in the second act. Tyumenev worked quickly alongside with the creation of the music, and the opera was completed within ten months.

“The Tsar’s Bride” was premiered on 22 October (3 November) 1899 by efforts of private theatre company of Savva Mamontov, those time having the name “Winter Private Opera’. The part of Marfa was played by Nadezhda Ivanovna Zabela-Vrubel, the decoration of the play was made by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel, and the conductor was Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov.



The Feast
The Tsar’s oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoy is deadly in love for the first time in his life. He vainly sent the in-laws to the father of his beloved Marfa: the merchant Sobakin refuses him flatly, because Marfa has already betrothed to the boyar Ivan Lykov.

The guests are coming to Grigory. Among them are Malyuta Skuratov, Bomelius (the Tsar’s healer) and Ivan Lykov who just returned from overseas. Grayznoy secretly asks the healer to get the love philtre for the Marfa’s binding and promises to award him generously for his help. Their talk has been overheard by the Gryaznoy’s lover Lyubasha. She won’t concede her happiness and will take revenge to her wicked rival in love.

The Love Philtre
A street in the Alexandrov Kremlin. Marfa is telling Dunyasha about her beloved groom Ivan Lykov. The conversation has been interrupted by a terrible ghost — Tsar Ivan has walked at a distance, looking at them. In the gloaming Lyubasha steals up to the Sobakin’s house. She is amazed with the Marfa’s beauty. Lyubasha decides to kill her rival, replacing the love philtre, having asked by Gryaznoy, with poison. Bomelius is ready to carry out her wish, but demands her love in exchange for it. Lyubasha agrees to this shameful bargain.

The Best Man
There are wedding preparations in the Sobakin’s house. It is high time they celebrated it, but everything has been interrupted by the Tsar’s viewing of the brides, for which the best beauties have been gathered at the palace. Lykov is worried as well as Grigory is. Finally Marfa returns. Everybody is calmed down, congratulating the groom and the bride. Taking the opportunity, Gryaznoy pours the philtre into the Marfa’s glass.  Suddenly Malyuta and boyars appear: the Tsar has chosen not Dunyasha to be his wife as the couple has hoped, but Marfa. 

The Bride
Sobakin is deeply saddened by his daughter’s incurable illness. Gryaznoy declares Marfa, that under torture Lykov confessed in his intention to kill the Tsar’s bride with poison and has been executed for it. Marfa can’t bear the grief. In her insanity she sees not Gryaznoy beside her, but her beloved groom Vanya. She tells him about her strange dream. Gryaznoy is frightened by the Marfa’s insanity: he has ruined her instead of binding to himself. Being not able to fight with the sufferings Gryaznoy confesses to the crime — he poisoned Marfa and maligned Lykov. Lubasha confesses that she has replaced the love philtre with the poison and Gryaznoy kills her in a bout of fury. But he is going to take any pain in order to atone for the sufferings of his beloved.

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