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Boris Godunov

Richard Jones directs a new production of Musorgsky’s magnificent opera on the perils of power.

Most recent performance

There are currently no scheduled performances of Boris Godunov. It was last on stage 14 March—5 April 2016 as part of the Spring 2015/16 season.

The Story

The Tsar Boris Godunov came to power by murdering the nine-year-old Dmitry, heir to the throne. Boris has ruled well, but famines, thought by some to be divine punishment, have led to rising support for his enemies. The young monk Grigory, realizing he was born the same day as the murdered Tsarevich, decides to pose as the risen Dmitry in a bid to seize the throne.

Read more… (Contains spoilers)


In the title role of Boris Godunov – Modest Musorgsky’s only completed opera – the composer created one of the greatest bass-baritone roles in the canon. The psychological acuity with which he depicts the tsar’s power and vulnerability makes great demands on the singer-actor, nowhere more so than in the acclaimed soliloquy ‘I have attained the highest power’. Musorgsky’s subtle handling of different genres results in a particularly crucial role for the chorus as the Russian people, from their manipulation at Boris’s coronation to their credulous enthusiasm for the Pretender. The opera’s highly individualistic approach to drama and declamation, and the towering central role for the title character, have ensured its position as one of the great works in the repertory.

Boris Godunov’s complex route to the stage resulted in Musorgsky completing two quite different versions; this new production for The Royal Opera uses the first, from 1869. Pushkin’s Shakespeare-inspired play about the 16th-century tsar was suggested to Musorgsky as the ideal subject through which to explore his ideas on realism and naturalistic declamation. In 1869 the young composer submitted the finished opera to the Imperial Theatres Directorate, who rejected it, on the grounds that there were no female characters. Musorgsky revised the opera – but his 1872 version went far beyond the requirements of the Imperial Theatres and suggests the composer was writing under a whole new ideology. Acclaimed director Richard Jones (Il trittico for The Royal Opera; La fanciulla del West for ENO) directs a new production of the 1869 version, where Boris’s deeply felt guilt and horror at the human sacrifices he has made in his ascent to power is emphasized through the realistic depiction of the murder of the young Crown Prince.

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