The Performance has one intermission
The Tsar’s Bride (Tsarskaya nevesta) is an opera in four acts by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto, by Il’ya Tyumenev, is based on the drama of the same name by Lev Mey.
Chamber in Oprichnik Grigory Gryaznoy’s house. Grigory is plunged in deep thought. He has fallen passionately in love with Marfa, daughter of the merchant Sobakin, but she is already betrothed to the young boyar, Ivan Lykov. In order to put his love out of his mind, Grigory decides to organize a drinking-party. One of his guests is the Tsar’s foreign physician, Bomelius; Gryaznoy has an important matter to discuss with him.
His guests start arriving: the oprichniks led by Malyuta Skuratov, Gryaznoy’s friend, Ivan Lykov and the long-awaited Yelisey Bomelius. Lykov tells the assembled company of the foreign parts from whence he has recently returned. Psaltery players and singers entertain the guests with songs and dancing. The guests sing the praises of their sovereign, Ivan the Terrible.
During the revelries, Malyuta mentions Lyubasha. "Who is Lyubasha?" Bomelius asks. "Gryaznoy’s mistress, a right bonny lass!" Malyuta replies. Gryaznoy calls Lyubasha and, at Malyuta’s request, she sings a song about the bitter fate of a girl who is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. The carousal comes to an end and the guests depart. Gryaznoy detains Bomelius. Lyubasha, sensing that something is wrong, hides and listens to their conversation. Graznoy asks Bomelius for a love potion. The physician promises to provide him with a powder which has the power to arouse love in a girl’s heart. After Bomelius has gone, Lyubasha accuses Grigory of having fallen out of love with her. But Grigory doesn’t listen. He can think of nothing else but his passion for Marfa. The bells sound for the early morning service. Grigory departs leaving Lyubasha alone with her despair. She cannot live without Grigory’s love. Lyubasha vows she will seek out the girl who is the cause other troubles and bewitch her away from Gryaznoy.
The Love Potion
A street in the Alexandrov sloboda. The parishioners are coming out of the monastery after the evening service. The oprichniks turn up: they are concocting some new mischief against the boyars. The common people try to keep out of their way: they fear both the boyars and the oprichniks, loyal servants to the stern Tsar.
Marfa, accompanied by Dunyasha and Petrovna, the housekeeper, come out of the monastery gates. At the porch of her house, Marfa stands talking to her friend other betrothed, Ivan Lykov. Suddenly someone in a black monk’s cassock and skullcap appears through the monastery gates and walks slowly along the street. Marfa’s eyes meet those of the monk. She doesn’t recognize Ivan the Terrible but the stranger’s intent gaze frightens her. It is only when she catches sight of her father and her betrothed, who are approaching the house, that she calms down and forgets her weird encounter. Sobakin invites Lykin into the house and the girls follow them in. Dusk is falling. A shadow is circling round the Sobakin house. It is Lyubasha. She cautiously steals up to the porch: she wants to have a look at her rival. Having peeped through the lit-up window, Dunyasha clams down: "Is that Marfa? There is no need for me to worry then, Grigory will soon tire other!" But, peeping again through the window, Dunyasha realizes she has mistaken Dunyasha for Marfa. Dunyasha is struck by Marfa’s beauty. "He won’t fall out of love with her in a hurry. I’ll soon show her, though!"
Out of her mind with despair, Lyubasha rushes to Bomelius’s house. Bomelius appears in answer to her call. Lyubasha begs him to sell her a potion which will destroy human beauty. Bomelius agrees, demanding in return Lyubasha’s love. Indignant, Lyubasha wants to leave, but Bomelius threatens to tell Gryaznoy what she has asked him for.
The sound of Marfa’s laughter coming from the Sobakins house, makes Lyubasha agree to Bomelius’s terms. Bomelius goes off to mix the potion, leaving Lyubasha alone with her oppressive thoughts. At this point, Lykov leaves the Sobakin household accompanied by the master of the house. Learning from their conversation that Grigory is expected at Marfa’s home the next day, Lyubasha renews her pleas for a potion: Bomelius has now reappeared. Bomelius tries to drag the desperate girl into his house, but the sound of the oprichniks singing in the distance stays his hand. Lyubasha is about to rush towards the oprichniks, where she will find Grigory, when she remembers he no longer loves her and comes to a halt. Bomelius hides by the door, waiting for Lyubasha. Lyubasha forces herself to go to the physician. She feels as if she is going to her execution. The oprichniks appear in the street. Led by Malyuta, they are on their way to massacre the seditious boyars. The light goes out in Bomelius’ house.
Chamber in Merchant Sobakin’s house. Sobakin tells Ivan Lykov and Gryaznoy that Marfa, together with Dunyasha and the boyars’ daughters, have been summoned to the palace for the Tsar intends to choose himself a bride. This alarms both Lykov and Gryaznoy. Sobakin tries to calm down Lykov. Echoing Sobakin’s sentiments, Gryaznoy suggests he be druzhka (one of the participants, representing the bridegroom, in the old wedding rites) at Lykov’s wedding. But as he congratulates Lykov, there is a mocking intonation in his voice. Domna Saburova, Dunyasha’s mother, appears. She describes how the ceremony for choosing the Tsar’s bride went. The Tsar hardly glanced in Marfa’s direction, but he paid Dunyasha a lot of attention, joking and talking with her. Lykov sighs with relief.
Grigory fills two goblets, he intends to drink a toast to the bride and bridegroom. Unnoticed, he pours the powder that Bomelius has given him into Marfa’s goblet - the love potion. As soon as Marfa, who has returned from the palace together with Dunyasha, enters the room, Grigory congratulates the couple and gives then each a goblet. In accordance with tradition, Marfa drinks her goblet dry. Everyone congratulates Marfa and Lykov. Saburova strikes up a song in honor of the bride in which the latter’s friends join in.
Suddenly, Petrovna rushes into the room and falls at Sobakin’s feet. "The boyars are on their way to you bearing a message from the Tsar!" "To me? You are out о your mind, woman!" Sobakin exclaims.
Malyuta appears with the boyars and proclaims the Tsar’s will - Marfa is to be his wife.
The Tsar’s chamber where Marfa, the Tsar’s bride, is now living preparatory to her wedding. An unknown ailment afflicts her. Bitter fears for his daughter give Sobakin no peace. Domna Saburova tries in vain to allay his anxiety. Gryaznoy appears: "The person responsible has confessed to everything and the Tsar’s foreign physician has promised to cure her ailment", he tells Sobakin. Sobakin has no idea who this person is. He makes haste to tell his daughter what he has heard. Marfa, at her wits end, runs into the chamber. She realizes that Lykov has been blamed for her ailment, trying to save him, she pretends to feel quite well again. "I’m quite well, I’m quite well", she says in an agitated voice. But Gryaznoy replies that the Tsar had ordered the execution of Lykov who, according to Gryaznoy, had confessed to giving Marfa a potion, and that he, Gryaznoy, with his own hands had carried out the sentence. Learning of the death of her beloved, Marfa falls unconscious to the floor.
On coming to, Marfa recognizes no one. Mistaking Gryaznoy for Lykov, she converses tenderly with him, recalling the happy hours they have spent together. Shaken by Marfa’s words, Gryaznoy admits that he had slandered Lykov and that he, himself, and given Marfa the love potion. But Marfa doesn’t hear him, all her thoughts are in the past. She again recalls her childhood, spent in Novgorod, and her betrothed. Gryaznoy is in despair. But before giving himself up into the hands of the oprichniks, he wants to "have things out with" Bomelius who deceived him. "You’d better have things out with me", says Lyubasha who has appeared on the scene. And she tells Grigory how she had substituted poison for the love potion Bomelius had given Grigory and which Grigory had then given Marfa. Grigory kills Lyubasha by plunging his knife into her heart. Grigory bids farewell to Marfa and gives himself up to the oprichniks and Malyuta. But Marfa sees and hears nothing. All her thoughts are in the past, with Lykov. She dies with his name on her lips.