01. November 2013

Die ZarenbrautZarskaja newesta

Opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow

Daniel Barenboim starts off the season with a work of central importance in Slavic opera literature but one which is not so well known in Germany. »Die Zarenbraut« by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The work is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov who has been among ...

Daniel Barenboim starts off the season with a work of central importance in Slavic opera literature but one which is not so well known in Germany. »Die Zarenbraut« by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The work is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov who has been among the opera stage directors most in demand worldwide ever since his staging of Boris Godunov with Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 2005, his first work outside of Russia.

Moscow's Alexandrovka suburb, in the autumn of 1571. In Russia rules Tsar Ivan IV, called »Grozny« by his contemporaries (actually »The Severe«, but generally translated as »The Terrible«). Supported by his bodyguards, the oprichniki, he has established a veritable terror regime which benefits few and suppresses many. He is a widower and is keen on getting married again, for the third time. No less than 2000 young women are presented to him, and one of them is to become his bride. The tsar's choice falls on the beauty Marfa Sobakina, the daughter of a merchant from Novgorod. She is in love with the boyar Ivan Lykov, but she yields to the monarch's request and her father's wish.

This courtship is embedded in a tragic story of love, jealousy, intrigue, treason and death. Shortly after the wedding Marfa falls ill and dies under mysterious circumstances. Obviously poison was involved - yet who prepared it and when it was administered and by whom comes to light only at the end. Several persons are involved in the obscure happenings: Grigory Gryaznoy, an influential oprichnik conscious of his power, his former lover Lyubasha who becomes more and more desperate and the tsar's ruthless personal physician Bomelius. The tsar himself has only one nonspeaking appearance, but he is mentioned rather frequently - and he is very much present in the music. His anthem is heard several times, his followers praise him in song, yet his reign of terror casts a threatening shadow over everything.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the youngest representative of the so-called »Mighty Handful«, a group of five composers dedicated to establishing a national Russian musical culture, had in mind a great tragic opera with a real historic background when writing his »Zarenbraut«, just as Mussorgsky had done with »Boris Godunov«. In his first opera »Das Mädchen von Pskow« of 1868, Rimsky-Korsakov had already focused on Tsar Ivan Grozny, a highly controversial figure at that time and today. Three decades later he composes »Tsarskaya nevesta« (»Die Zarenbraut«) - the ninth of his 15 operas - based on the drama of the same name by Lev Mey which he highly esteemed. Essentially, he retained the drama's plot and characters.

From a musical point of view, Rimsky-Korsakov did not so much follow Mussorgsky and the aesthetic principles of the »Mighty Handful«, but rather Mikhail Glinka, the founder of Russian opera tradition, who died in Berlin in 1857. Instead of requesting the text to be declaimed as realistically as possible, the »Zarenbraut« relies on well-defined musical forms such as arias, duets, ensembles and choirs. This work which premiered in Moscow in 1899 is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the operatic literature of its time. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a particularly colourful score, with attractive challenges for the singers of the major parts and for the choir and orchestra. Many melodies bring to mind Russian folklore, even though the composer does so without direct quotations. »Die Zarenbraut« is a comprehensive and complex work in terms of the subject which reflects a chapter in Russian history which is not at all well known in Central and Western Europe. In terms of the music, many of the passages are among some of the most impressive works that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote.

(Detlef Giese)

Sung in Russian with German surtitles
about 3:00 h | including 1 interval
Pre-performance lecture, 45 minutes prior to each performance (in German)
A coproduction of Staatsoper Unter den Linden with Teatro alla Scala di Milano
  • Synopsis

    The esteemed oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoy is in deep despair. He has lost his heart to Marfa Sobakina, but his marriage request has been rejected. Marfa has already been betrothed to Ivan Lïkov, who has just returned from abroad. To take his mind off his troubles, Gryaznoy holds a party for the oprichnik, also inviting the doctor Yelisey Bomelius, who is known for his special medicines and miracle cures.

    Marfa’s fiance Lïkov and the high-ranking oprichnik Malyuta-Skuratov are also among the guests.

    Malyuta summons Lyubasha, Gryaznoy’s lover. Forced to join the oprichniks, she knows how the charm those present.

    As the party dissolves, Gryaznoy asks the doctor to stay behind. He offers Bomelius a generous reward for creating a potion to help him conquer a woman’s heart.

    Lyubasha listens in on their conversation. Tortured by jealousy, she tries to have a talk with Gryaznoy, whose feelings for her have long cooled down: but he avoids her. Obsessed with the idea of losing Gryaznoy, Lyubasha is now capable of anything.

    The people speak of nothing else but the czar’s upcoming pageant of potential brides, where only the most beautiful young women have been selected to participate. The czar is to choose a bride from among them.

    Vassily Sobakin’s daughter Marfa is full of expectations for her meeting with her future husband Ivan Lïkov. She confides her deepest feelings with her friend Dunyasha. Sobakin invites Lïkov to his home.

    Lyubasha finds out where Marfa lives, and observes them in secret. Taken aback by Marfa’s beauty, she decides to take extreme measures. She asks Bomelius for a poison that she will then exchange with Gryaznoy’s love potion. As a reward for his services, Bomelius demands a night with Lyubasha. Driven to despair, she agrees.

    At Sobakin’s home, the preparations for the marriage of Marfa and Lïkov are fully underway. Sobakin admits to the future groom that Marfa and her friend Dunyasha were invited to the czar’s bridal pageant. Lïkov is worried, and Gryaznoy, who has forced himself on Lïkov as best man, is also unsettled by the news.

    Dunyasha’s mother Saburova returns with news from the bridal pageant, sure of the fact that the czar set his eye on her daughter. Now, Sobakin can gladly celebrate the engagement of his daughter to Lïkov. Gryaznoy takes advantage of the opportunity to fill the glasses of the betrothed, and accidentally pours Bomelius’ potion into Marfa’s wine. Just after she finishes her glass, the news arrives that the czar has chosen Marfa Sobakina to be his wife.

    Vassily Sobakin is profoundly distraught: his daughter has become suddenly ill after becoming the czar’s bride-to-be.

    Grigory Gryaznoy tells Marfa that Lïkov admitted under torture to poisoning the czar’s bride, whereupon he was executed under the czar’s orders. The horrible news drives Marfa mad. In her delirium, she mistakes Gryaznoy for her beloved Lïkov. She enthuses about her upcoming marriage to him, and as if in a nightmare, suddenly remembers being chosen as czar’s wife.

    As Gryaznoy sees Marfa’s madness, he realizes with horror what his hopes have led to: instead of gaining Marfa for himself, he has destroyed her. Agonized by guilt, he finally admits the deed: he is the one who poisoned Marfa and slandered the innocent Lïkov.

    Lyubasha then appears, admitting that it was she, and not Bornelius, who switched the potions. Mad with rage, Gryaznoy kills Lyubasha and begs the dying Marfa for forgiveness.