The story of Boris Godunov

The complex and profound opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky is often characterized as one of the most challenging works in the field. Based on Pushkin’s play, Boris tells the story of Russian Czar Boris Fyodorovich Godunov, who ruled from 1598 to 1605. What factors influenced the work’s popularity? We may say that the intriguing subject line and Mussorgsky’s compositional mastery had a significant role. It all started in 1869 when Mussorgsky began working on one of its most important projects, based on Aleksandr Pushkin’s drama.

The first version of Boris, completed in December 1869, was rejected by the imperial theatres’ advisory committee because it lacked a prima donna character. In response, the composer thoroughly revised the opera and finished the second version in 1872, adding the characters of Marina and Rangoni and several new events. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and much later Dmitri Shostakovich, had attempts at making Mussorgsky’s only completed opera “better.” Even if Mussorgsky finished a second version of the work, defined by its orchestration style with great blocks of chords, moving with unadorned, almost clumsy simplicity, Korsakov and Shostakovich have created new editions of the opera. They concentrated on adjusting the perceived technical “weaknesses” in the composer’s original scores but were totally in contrast with the rough and severe direction imagined by Mussorgsky.

Read the entire interview here, in the 9th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.


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