XVIIth. century anonymous tapestry: Boris Godunov

Boris Godunov: Christo Brambarov
Fyodor: Virginia Popova
Xenia: Julia Kiradjieva
Nurse: Nadia Bardarova
Shuisky: Milen Paunov
Schchekalov: Vladimir Jeliazov
Pimen: Nicolai Ghiaurov
Grigory: Dimiter Uzunov
Simpleton: Kiril Djulgerov
Marina: Sijka Petrova
Varlaam: Pavel Elmazov
Missail: Kosta Getzov
Innkeeper: Jordanka Dimcheva

Conductor: Asen Naidenov

Sofia, 17 April 1959, sung in Russian with some roles in Bulgarian


Scene 1 In a monastery courtyard near Moscow, peasants are goaded by police into clamoring for Boris Godunov to take over the vacant throne. Shchelkalov, secretary of the Duma (parliament), announces that Boris refuses and Russia is doomed. A procession of pilgrims passes, praying. Boris has decided to ascend the throne, and the great bells of Moscow herald his coronation. Boris appears in triumph but admits to himself that he is haunted by a strange foreboding. He invites his people to a banquet, and the crowd cheers him.

Act I

Scene Two In his dark monastery cell, the monk Pimen is finishing a history of Russia. Grigori, a novice, awakens from a nightmare and describes it to Pimen: he climbed a lofty tower until the people of Moscow looked like ants, but they mocked him, and he fell. Pimen recommends fasting and prayer, contrasting the solitude of the cloister with the outside world of sin and idle pleasure. When Grigori asks about the dead prince Dimitri, Pimen tells him Boris ordered the boy's murder so he could become czar himself, adding that the czarevich would have been Grigori's age. Grigori cries that Boris will be punished.

Scene Three Near the Lithuanian border, an Innkeeper welcomes three guests: the disguised Grigori -- now a renegade, wanted by the police -- and two friars, Varlaam and Missail. Varlaam accompanies his drinking with a song about the siege of Kazan, then dozes off. The Innkeeper tells them the border road is closed, whereupon a frontier guard enters with a warrant for Grigori's arrest. The guard cannot read it, and Grigori obliges, pretending it describes Varlaam. When the latter laboriously reads the true description, Grigori flees.

Act II

Scene 4 In the czar's palace study, Boris' daughter, Xenia, laments the death of her fiancé. The Nurse tries to cheer her. Boris enters, studying a map of Russia. In his monologue he tells his son, Fedor, he will rule one day and then, alone, ponders the fears that haunt his dreams. Prince Shuisky comes to report on the insurrection led by Grigori, who claims to be Dimitri, rightful heir to the throne. Shuisky assures the czar the real Dimitri was killed. Dismissing the wily prince, Boris gives way to terror, imagining he sees the child's ghost as the clock begins to strike. Stricken with remorse, he begs God's forgiveness.


Scene FiveAt the castle of Sandomierz in Poland, ambitious Princess Marina muses on Grigori's plans to conquer Russia and on her own dream of becoming czarina. The Jesuit Rangoni tells her to enslave this false Dimitri with her beauty and bring Russia under the domination of Rome.

Scene Six In the castle gardens, Grigori waits to woo Marina. Rangoni slips in and assures him that the princess is eager to meet him but makes him hide while her guests dance a polonaise. At last the schemers are together, the haughty Marina quickly humbled by Grigori's arrogance. Dreaming of glory, the two swear love.

Act IV

Scene SevenBefore the Cathedral of St. Basil, the people debate the possibility that the real Dimitri still lives. A group of urchins runs in, tormenting a Simpleton and stealing his only kopeck. The simpleton sings a plaintive song ("Moonlight paling").Boris and his retinue appear, and the Simpleton asks Boris to kill the boys the way he killed Dimitri. Shuddering, Boris protects the Simpleton, asking him to pray for him, but the Simpleton refuses to intercede for a murderer, bewailing Russia's dark future ("Let bitter tears be shed").

Scene Eight In the Kromy Forest, revolutionary peasants jeer at Khrushchov, a boyar. As they beat him, two unlucky Jesuits happen on the scene, and the crowd is about to hang them when Grigori passes in triumph with his army. Khrushchov and the Jesuits are set free, and the crowd and Grigori march on to Moscow. The Simpleton repeats his lament for Russia.

Scene NineIn the Duma, Shchelkalov denounces the false Dimitri, but Shuisky reminds the boyars (nobles) of Boris' hysteria. Now the czar himself staggers in, protesting his innocence. Pimen is brought to tell how a blind shepherd was healed at the grave of the murdered czarevich. Crushed by this omen, Boris dismisses the nobles and sends for his son, bidding the boy farewell and naming him heir. As bells toll, Boris falls dying, begging God's forgiveness.