Shostakovich's Khovanshchina was prepared based on Pavel Lamm's 1931 edition which draws on Musorgsky's original manuscripts, although this sovereign Soviet composer also added numerous alterations and emendations to the autograph score, such as appending a conclusion to the end of Act II and an ad libitum postlude or quasi commentary to the end of Act V. In September 1874, Mussorgsky completed a piano score for Dawn over the Moskva River. It was intended to open his last opera, Khovanschina (The Khovansky Affair), which lay uncompleted upon his death from alcohol poisoning on March 28, 1881.

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Khovanshchina is an opera in 5 acts by Mussorgsky, completed and orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov. Libretto by composer Vladimir Stasov. First performed in St. Petersburg on February 21st, 1886. This is the also the ONLY full-length performance of Mussorgsky's opera.

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.


a term sometimes used in literature for the Moscow Uprising of 1682. The Khovanshchina takes its name from Prince I. A. Khovanskii, one of the feudal aristocrats who exploited the uprising in their struggle for power.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Khovanshchina (Russian: Хованщина) is a five-act opera by Modest Mussorgsky, set to a libretto by Mussorgsky himself. Based on real events in Russian history, the opera was unfinished and unperformed when Mussorgsky died in 1881.

This opera deals with a particular episode of Russian history: the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers (a sect of Eastern Orthodox Christians), and the Muscovite Streltsy against the regent Sofia Alekseyevna and the two joint Tsars Peter the Great and Ivan V, who were in the process of Westernizing Russia. The major players of this opera are the Streltsy (firearm infantry from 16th to 18th century) leader Prince Ivan Khovansky, his son Prince Andrey Khovansky, the schismatic Marfa, the chief Old Believer Dosifey, Prince Vasily Golitsin, and Boyar Fyodor Shaklovity.

Khovanshchina story

Ivan Khovansky had played a role in the Moscow Uprising of 1682, which had resulted in Sofia becoming regent, before he turned against her in the fall of 1682. But with the help of Fyodor Shaklovity, Sofia is able to successfully suppress the titular Khovanshchina (Khovansky affair), and thus, the Old Believers commit mass suicide, at least in the opera.

Yeah, 17th-century Russia was quite rough back then.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov had completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881-1882, with its premiere happening in 1886 in Saint Petersburg. But in 1913, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel had been commissioned by critic Sergei Diaghilev to make their own arrangement. And in 1959, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera based on Mussorgsky's vocal score. Today, Shostakovich's arrangement is the one that is performed, with Stravinsky's finale sometimes being used as well.


Khovanshchina Gergiev

Today, this opera is rarely performed outside of Russia, though it has seen some performances in other European countries.

Khovanshchina Synopsis

This work provides examples of:

  • Affluent Ascetic: Marfa was born into an aristocratic family, but abandoned that life to join the Old Believers and become a prophetess.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Upon seeing the Streltsy being led to their death in Act IV, Andrey begs Marfa to save him.
  • Anti-Villain: Arguably, Ivan Khovansky, as he simply wants to reunite Russia, but he is hedonistic and selfish, two traits that are shown in the circumstances of his death scene.
  • Asshole Victim: Not too many people will sympathize with Andrey dying in the immolation finale.
  • Badass Baritone: Dosifey is a pretty badass one.
  • Badass Beard: Russian productions will have Dosifey and most male characters sport some pretty epic beards.
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Marfa, Andrey, Dosifey, and the Old Believers commit mass suicide by burning themselves in a forest hut, rather than get captured by Tsar Peter’s soldiers.
  • Betty and Veronica: The gentle German girl Emma and the fiery schismatic Marfa.
  • Belly Dancer: Ivan Khovansky has Persian slaves who dance for him, shortly before his assassination.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: Marfa is Andrey’s ex-fiancée, and she seems to still carry some affections for him.
  • Break the Haughty: By Act IV, Khovansky has gone from being an imperious, arrogant prince to a broken man who seeks solace in pleasure, upon which he ultimately meets his end.
  • Cassandra Truth: Marfa foresees Golitsin falling from power and being exiled, and Golitsin responds by not believing her and trying to have her executed. Guess what happens to him by the end of the opera?
  • Contralto of Danger: Marfa is a mezzo-soprano role, and she’s not a friendly character at all.
  • Crapsack World: Late 17th-century Russia, as it is a divided country in the hands of religious fanatics, military leaders, and politicians of all sorts.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Dosifey is a religious fanatic who leads his followers to their deaths in a mass suicide.
  • Downer Ending: Even by operatic standards. Khovansky is assassinated, Golitsin is exiled, and Andrey, Marfa, Dosifey, and all the Old Believers commit mass suicide by burning alive in a forest hermitage.
  • Driven to Suicide: Marfa, Andrey, Dosifey, and all the Old Believers.
  • Event Title: “Khovanshchina” translates to “The Khovansky Affair”.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Played around with, since there’s not exactly a clear-cut black-and-white here. Ivan Khovansky is a bass role, and he’s kind of a jerkass. Fyodor Shaklovity is a baritone role, and he’s a slimy, near psychopathic character. And Dosifey, a bass role, he’s a fanatic who leads his followers in a harrowing mass suicide.
  • Face Death with Dignity: How Marfa, Dosifey, Andrey, and the Old Believers face their mass suicide.
  • Foreshadowing: Golitsin has Marfa tell his fortune, and she predicts that he’ll fall from power and face exile. Sure enough, in Act IV, Golitsin is exiled.
  • Fortune Teller: Marfa is more or less this.
  • German Russians: Emma is a German-Russian girl.
  • Greek Chorus: The whole chorus can either make or break a production of this opera, as they represent the Russian populace who suffer from all the politics.
  • Jerkass: Andrey Khovansky is pretty much a jerk, to be honest. He’s a lecherous, conniving, self-indulgent sleaze who abuses his position to try and rape Emma, and he hardly has any redeeming qualities, to boot.
  • Innocent Soprano: Emma, a soprano, is an innocent Damsel in Distress.
  • Kill It with Fire: The mass suicide scene in Act V.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Emma is light while Marfa is dark.
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: The only character close to being truly, honestly good is Marfa.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Andrey is as imperious, arrogant, and sleazy as his father Ivan. In fact, both father and son try and take Emma for themselves in Act I.
  • Prince Charmless: Andrey really isn’t the most charming prince out there. He’s corrupt, lecherous, and a complete scoundrel to put the Duke of Mantua to shame.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Andrey definitely seems to be this.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Since Mussorgsky died before he could complete his opera, it has undergone multiple revisions: first by Rimsky-Korsakov, then Stravinsky and Ravel, and finally by Shostakovich. Today, Shostakovich’s version is usually performed, with Stravinsky’s finale sometimes being used. What Mussorgsky intended for the opera, we will never know.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: This could be an alternate title for the opera, actually. Ultimately, the entire population of Russia suffers because of the actions of the people in charge.
  • The Sociopath: Shaklovity definitely seems to be this, seeing how he is purely threatening and menaces quite a few characters throughout.
  • Staged Populist Uprising: Ivan’s rebellion against regent Sofia is not altruistic or good-hearted; it’s driven to fulfil his own needs.
  • Succession Crisis: The whole opera is based on the crisis that happened after the death of Tsar Fyodor III. Prince Ivan Khovansky supports the joint rulers in place, Peter I and Ivan V, while Golitsin supports the regent Sofia Alekseyevna.
  • Tenor Boy: Averted with Andrey, since his character requires a more dramatic voice, and is not a very good-hearted person at all.
  • The Unseen: Due to 19th-century censorship laws prohibiting the portrayal of Romanov dynasty members on-stage, Peter I, Ivan V, and Sofia Alekseyevna are never directly shown on-stage; they’re only indirectly mentioned in the plot.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Khovansky Affair was something that really happened in Russian history, with Ivan Khovansky leading the Streltsy in a rebellion against Sofia Alekseyevna and Tsars Peter I and Ivan V (though he initially supported them at first), as a means of protesting the Westernizing reforms in Russia. However, in history, he and his son were tried for treason and beheaded together, whereas in the opera, Ivan is assassinated and Andrey joins the Old Believers in the mass suicide.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Ivan undergoes this in Act IV, where he engages in debauchery with the Persian slaves until he’s assassinated by Shaklovity.
  • Wretched Hive: The entire city of Moscow is this in the opera.

Khovanshchina Opera