Khovanshchina - Further information
World première on November 25, 1960, Kirov-Theater, Leningrad
As Modest Mussorgsky planned it, the opera “Khovanshchina” was to end “with a threatening pianissimo chord as the curtain fell”, the old believers were to die both in image and insound in a collective suicide at the stake. At a private performance of the actually finished opera on the piano in 1879, Mussorgsky met with a lack of understanding on the part of his fellow composers of the nationalistic “Mighty Handful”. He omitted the instrumentalisation.The history of his native country, the conflict between the people and their ruler, and the soul of Mother Russia intensify in Mussorgsky’s opera to a “musical folk drama”. The starting point of the opera is the cause of the house of Khovansky – Khovanshchina in Russian. A medieval Russia at the end of the seventeenth century, marked by power and intrigue on the part of autocratic princes and sects, andthe Russia of modern times, personified by the regency of Tsar Peter I, are unreconcilably opposed. The Khovanskys try to gain power, urge the army of the Streltsy to revolt and suffer dreadful defeat. The real victims are the old believers, all that is left for them is mass suicide.
Many composers have attempted to set this opera to music; the most impressive of these was probably Dmitri Shostakovich, who used the completed piano excerpt as a basis. Only the ending of our new production comes from the pen of Igor Stravinsky, who reworked an alternative choral draft by Mussorgsky, and had the opera end with a dying pianissimo as was originally intended.
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