Konstantin Yuon: Cathedral of the Assumption

Ivan Khovansky: Nicolai Ghiaurov
Andrei Khovansky: Luben Mihailov
Vasili Golitsin: Liubomir Bodurov
Shaklovity: Stoyan Popov
Marfa: Boika Koseva
Dosifei: Nicola Ghiuselev
Varsonofiev: Dimiter Dimitrov
Emma: Maria Dimchevska
Susanna: Nadia Sharkova
Strashnev: Petar Petrov
Kuzka: Verter Vrachovski

Conductor: Atanas Margaritov

Sofia, 28 January 1975, sung in Russian

Act I   Sunrise over the Moscow river. Red Square in Moscow.
04:50    The streylets (musketeer, a member of the Streltsy) Kuzka has fallen asleep on guard duty. When he awakens, other musketeers sing of their homicidal exploits the night before and tease him. A scribe appears and the musketeers harass him.
8:15   The boyar Shaklovity enters. He dictates an anonymous letter to tsar Peter warning that Prince Ivan Khovansky and his son Andrei wish to stir up revolt and have Andrei made tsar. Shaklovity instructs the scribe to deliver the letter. Citizens of Moscow observe the exchange and wonder about the contents of the document and lament the state of Russia.
26:50   Ivan Khovansky enters. The people sing his praise and he encourages them to save Russia from traitorous boyars. He promises to crush the people's enemies.
30:10   As the crowd leaves, Andrei Khovansky enters with Emma, a German girl who had been kidnapped during the previous night's rampage. She begs Andrei for mercy and then denounces him for killing her father. Marfa, a member of the Old Believers and Andrei's fiancée, enters and intervenes. She urges Andrei to keep his promise of fidelity. She prophesizes that they will enter a radiant convent side by side. Ivan Khovansky returns and is taken with Emma's beauty. He orders Emma taken to his palace. Andrei opposes him.
37:15   Dosifei, the leader of the Old Believers arrives, restrains Andrei, and entrusts Emma to Marfa. The two Khovanskys leave as fanfares are heard coming from the Kremlin. Dosifei and the old believers pray, renouncing earthly life and temptations.

Act II   Prince Galitsin's palace. The Prince reads a love letter from Sophia whom he does not trust.
05:43   A servant announces Marfa's arrival. He has summoned her to cast his horoscope in a bowl of water. She complains that visiting the Prince is like walking into a trap. He reminds her that these are treacherous times. She predicts betrayal, disgrace and exile. He dismisses her, then orders her drowned.
12:50   Alone, he ponders his terrible fate and the fate of Russia. Ivan Khovansky arrives. He accuses Golitsin of undermining the nobles. Golitsin treats Khovansky with scorn and accuses him of leaving Moscow drenched in blood. The hostilities escalate. Dosifei arrives and intervenes, separating the men. He reprimands them both and tries to encourage them to return to the ways of the people. Golitsin is dismissive. Khovansky teases him and Dosifei reminds that his Streltsy behave like beasts.
29:20    Old Believers are heard singing in the distance. They proclaim their triumph over heresy. Khovansky and Dosifei praise the Old Believers. Golitsin realizes that they are both Old Believers and denounces them as schismatics. Marfa rushes in. She has been saved from death by one of the tsar's guards. They are all alarmed by the news that the tsar's armies are in town. Shaklovity arrives to announce that the tsar has accused the Khovanskys of treason.

Act III   The Streltsy Quarter outside Khovansky's house. The Old Believers sing of their triumph over heresy.
3:10   Marfa cannot forget Andrei. She has a vision of the Old Believers going up in flames. She sees Andrei going up in flames with her. Susanna, an Old Believer, accuses her of witchcraft. She says that Marfa should be burned at the stake. Marfa defends her behavior, but becomes lost in thoughts of Andrei while Susanna continues to torment her.
11:25   Dosifei enters, calms Susanna, and then berates her for her selfish pride. He orders her away. He tells Marfa to be patient. The Old Believers will have their day and she will no longer feel the torment of her love for Andrei.
19:05   Shaklovity enters. The Streltsy district is quiet and the Streltsy, whom he loathes, are asleep. He wonders who will save Russia and the Russian people. He implores heaven to send a tsar who will save Russia.
24:10    The Streltsy awaken and continue their drunken carousing. Their wives browbeat them. The scribe runs on. In another part of the city, the Streltsy have been defeated by Tsar Peter's troops who were abetted by foreign soldiers. The Streltsy do not believe him at first, but slowly start to believe the scribe's story. The Streltsy panic and call for Khovansky, who emerges from his home. The people want him to lead a counterattack. He refuses. Although he led them into battle in the past, the circumstances are different. They should return to their homes and await orders from Tsar Peter. The Streltsy pray.

Act IV   Scene 1 The dining room in Prince Ivan Khovansky's house. The prince is dining. Peasant girls sing a melancholy song. The prince asks them to sing something less melancholy. They sing a lively song and dance to the music
03:33   A confidant of Prince Golitsin enters. He tells Ivan that Prince Golitsin has ordered him to tell Ivan to be careful. Ivan scoffs at the idea and orders the confidant dragged off. He asks for more mead and orders more dancing. His Persian slave girls enter and dance a Persian dance.
12:30   Shaklovity shows up unannounced. The Tsarevna Sophia has convened the high council in Moscow. It is essential the Prince Ivan attend. Ivan requests his best robes. As he dresses, the peasant girls sing the Song of the White Swan. As Ivan is about to leave, Shaklovity stabs him. Sneering, Shaklovity sings the Song of the White Swan over the dead body.
17:00   Scene 2 In the square before the church of St. Basil in Moscow the crowd watches as Golitsin is taken away into exile. The crowd asks God to help him. Dosifei says that God's judgment has been enacted on Golitsin and Ivan Khovansky. He foresees a bad end for Andrei. Marfa runs on and tells Dosifei that the High Council has ordered that troops surround the old believers at their sacred hermitage and destroy them. Marfa and Dosifei both look forward to their hour of martyrdom. Dosifei tells Marfa she must have Andrei at her side when the time comes.
25:00    Andrei hurries on, demanding that Marfa return Emma to him. Marfa tells him that Emma is far away with her exiled fiancé. She also tells him that his father has been assassinated. Andrei does not believe her; he will denounce her as a witch. Marfa dares him to summon the Streltsy. They appear carrying the axes and blocks for their own executions. Andrei is terrified. He begs Marfa to save him. She hurries off with him. The Streltsy kneel and beg for mercy. Their wives mock them and demand punishment. A fanfare is heard. A herald announces that the Streltsy have been pardoned by Tsars Ivan and Peter. They should return home and pray.

Act V   The hermitage of the old believers in a forest outside of Moscow. It is nighttime and Dosifei is heading towards the hermitage.
01:30   He tells the Old Believers that they must find strength in the Almighty and pray. They pray together as they prepare themselves for Salvation. They head into the monastery.
11:30   Marfa stays behind praying for Andrei's salvation. Andrei is heard in the distance calling out to Emma. Marfa greets him and reminds him of their time of great love. She assures Andrei that she will not leave him and they will die together. She sings a hallelujah.
19:10    Dosifei enters dressed in white. The bugles of the Tsar's guard are heard. As the Old Believers build a pyre, Marfa tells Andrei that they are surrounded and they all must die. He promised it when they took their vow of love. The trumpets sound. Dosifei and the Old Believers look forward to seeing the divine radiance of heaven. Marfa lights the pyre as the Old Believers pray. Andrei joins Marfa and the Old Believers in the fire. The trumpeters appear and are horrified by the sight of the immolation.


The death of Tsar Fyodor Alexeyevich in 1682 at the age of 20 created a succession crisis. The choice was between the tsar's 16 year old sickly brother, Ivan and a half brother, Peter, 10. The church attempted to install Peter as tsar with his mother as regent. However, a local military police force (the Streltsky) had both boys installed as joint tsars with Ivan's sister Sophia as regent. Sophia's key advisor, agent and lover was Prince Vasily Golitsin.

The commander of the Streltsky was Prince Ivan Khovansky, a member of the Old Believers. The Old Believers were trying to undo recent reforms in the Russian church. Khovansky's attempted mutiny against the regime is the subject of the opera Khovanschina (the Khovansky affair).

After much intrigue and fighting, the tsar Peter became the sole ruler of Russia. He was Tsar Peter I or Peter the Great. The night before the opera begins, the Streltsy had gone on a rampage in Moscow, killing relatives of Peter the Great, boyars and political figures, carving up the bodies and piling them in Red Square.