Vladivostok, Primorsky Stage, Great Hall

The Tsar's Bride

Opera in four acts

Performed in Russian
(the performance will have synchronised Russian, English and Korean supertitles)



Pavel Smelkov

Vassily Sobakin: Yevgeny Plekhanov
Marfa: Maria Suzdaltseva
Grigory Gryaznoy: Vyacheslav Vasilyev
Malyuta Skuratov: Sergei Pleshivtsev
Ivan Lykov: Roman Krukovich
Lyubasha: Laura Bustamante
Elisey Bomely: Vsevolod Marilov


Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Libretto by Ilya Tyumenev based on a scenario by the composer after the drama by Lev Mey

Musical Director: Pavel Smelkov
Stage Director: Vyacheslav Starodubtsev
Set and Costume Designer: Pyotr Okunev
Lighting Designer: Sergei Skornetsky
Video Designer: Vadim Dulenko
Assistant Director for Choreography: Sergei Zakharin
Musical coach: Irina Soboleva
Musical Preparation: Olga Krukovich
Principal Chorus Master: Larisa Shveikovskaya


Act I

The oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoi is expecting guests whom he has invited with the secret thought of gaining the trust of Ivan Lykov and being introduced to Bomely the German physician as soon as possible. Ivan Lykov is the groom of the beautiful Marfa Sobakina with whom Gryaznoi is in love.

The times when Gryaznoi enjoyed taking any girl by force who took his fancy. Now he is truly in love but Marfa’s father has declined him point-blank; his daughter is promised in marriage to Ivan Lykov who has recently returned from abroad. Gryaznoi doesn’t yet know what he will do but he is determined the marriage will not take place.

The oprichnik guests assemble, led by the mighty Malyuta Skuratov Lykov and Bomely. Singers entertain Gryaznoi’s guests with singing and dancing. When the guests depart Bomely alone remains behind at the host’s request. Gryaznoi asks him for a love-philtre. Lyubasha, Gryaznoi’s lover, overhears their conversation. After Bomely departs she tries to hold on to Gryaznoi and revive his love, but in vain.

Act II

An autumn morning. In fear, the people walking in the garden make way for the oprichniks who appear and they discuss the impending inspection of the Tsar’s bride, for which beautiful girls from all over Russia have been brought. Midday. Marfa and her friend Dunyasha Saburova and the drynurse Petrovna are returning home. They are met by several horsemen, one of whom is Ivan the Terrible. Marfa does not recognise the Tsar, though she is frightened by his fixed stare.

In secret, Lyubasha is spying on Marfa and Dunyasha. She is staggered by Marfa’s beauty and realises she cannot compete with her. Lyubasha asks Bomely for some poison to kill her rival. In exchange for the poison Bomely wants to spend the night with Lyubasha. Mad with grief and abandoned by her lover she agrees.


Sobakin is receiving guests at home – Lykov and Grigory Gryaznoi, who has asked insistently to be the groom’s best man. They wait for the girls who are due home at any moment with Dunyasha Saburova’s mother from the Tsar’s inspection of the brides. Domna Saburova enters and hurriedly begins to relate how long the Tsar spoke with her Dunyasha and merely gave Marfa a quick glance. Believing that the Tsar has chosen someone else, Sobakin decides to celebrate his daughter’s engagement to Lykov. As best man, Grigory fills the prospective bride and groom’s glasses with wine and, unnoticed, slips the potion he received from Bomely into the glass intended for Marfa; he is unaware that Lyubasha has substituted the potion with another. In line with custom the glasses must be drained. But the bride doesn’t even manage to put down her empty glass before the boyars appear and declare that the Tsar has chosen Marfa Sobakina for his bride.

Act IV

Vasily Sobakin is deep in thought: his daughter was unexpectedly and strangely taken ill soon after she was announced as the Tsar’s bride. Gryaznoi appears. In the name of the Tsar he declares that under torture Lykov admitted poisoning Marfa and has been executed. On hearing this terrible news Marfa loses her senses. It seems to her that she is in the garden with her beloved. Turning to Gryaznoi, she calls the oprichnik Vanya, dreams of her marriage to him and remembers being chosen as the Tsar’s bride only as a terrible dream. Grigory cannot bear this heart-rending scene and publicly repents of the evil deed he has committed: it was he who gave Marfa the philtre and slandered his rival! Lyubasha appears. Crying out, she admits that she replaced the love-philtre with poison. Gryaznoi stabs Lyubasha to death. He bids farewell to Marfa and is led away.


Rimsky-Korsakov’s ninth opera The Tsar’s Bride (1898) puzzled both the composer’s admirers and his critics. The application area of Korsakov’s talent which had so firmly established itself during the previous years, seemingly left no room for doubt as to the character of his subsequent works. Myth, fairy tale and epos – those were Alpha and Omega of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas, as it was perceived by his contemporaries. “The Tsar’s Bride is a new and original thing for me,” the composer wrote to Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel, the first performer of Marfa, “I’m surprised that many inveterate musicians do not want to understand it…. They have a specialization all set for me: fantastic music, but for dramatic music – I’m not good enough. ... Is it possible that I am destined to portray only water, landliving and amphibian monsters?”

Though drama was far from being alien to Rimsky-Korsakov, who by that time had already created his historical folk drama The Maid of Pskov and “dramatic scenes” Mozart and Salieri, most people found his choice of a domestic drama The Tsar’s Bride by Lev Mey to be quite unexpected. Later, in his Chronicle of My Musical Life, Rimsky-Korsakov described his decision to tackle Mey’s play as “a long-term intention”. Indeed, the idea to compose an opera to a dramatic plot dated back to the times of the Mighty Handful and had been suggested by Mily Balakirev, while Alexander Borodin had also toyed with the idea of The Tsar’s Bride at the end of the 1860s. As it became apparent later, the style of The Tsar’s Bride, that astounded musicians so much, had been even better prepared, as a twist toward the new, as the author called it, “plastique” vocal style had occurred earlier – in a series of romances, duets and other vocal compositions created in 1897–1898.

Premiere of the opera took place in Moscow with the actors of a private opera theatre. According to critics, The Tsar’s Bride indicated “a radical change in Korsakov’s operatic views”, “departure from the ideas of the Mighty Five” and even his “deliberate renunciation of the revered principles of the New Russian School”. Reviewers wrote about “anti-wagnerism” of the opera, “simplification” of the composer, trying to “reconcile the requirements of a new musical drama with the old operatic forms”. After the premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre on 30 October 1901, The Tsar’s Bride enjoyed a tremendous success with Moscow and St Petersburg audiences that subsequently developed into a true appreciation.

World premiere: 22 October 1899, The Russian Private Opera (Mamontov Theatre), Moscow
Premiere at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre: 11 September 2018, Vladivostok

Running time: 3 hours 40 minutes
The performance has two intervals

Age category 12+

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