Opera in four acts (eight scenes) with a prologue (of two paintings)
Libretto by M. P. Mussorgsky
Children of Boris
Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shuisky
Andrey Shchelkalov, Duma clerk
Pimen, the chronicler-hermit
Impostor under the name of Gregory
(in the upbringing of Pimen)
Marina Mnishek, daughter of Sandomierz
Rangoni, secret Jesuit
Low mezzo soprano
The holy fool
Nikitich, the bailiff
Mityuha, a peasant
Boyars, boyar children, archers, markets, bailiffs, Pani and Pani, Sandomierz girls, gangs of passers-by, people of Moscow.
Location: Moscow, the Lithuanian border, the castle in Sandomierz, Kromy.
The period of validity: 1598-1605.
Faced in the courtyard of the Novodevichy monastery, threatening them makes the gathered people ask the boyar Boris Godunov to take the royal crown. Boris persistently refuses the throne. This is reported to the people by the Duma clerk Shchelkalov. Pass “holy elders” – the wives of passers-by, advocating for the election of Boris. The bailiff reads the decree of the boyars – tomorrow everyone should be in the Kremlin and wait there for orders.
The next morning, the people gathered in front of the Assumption Cathedral, submissively praise Boris, who agreed to get married to the kingdom. But the triumph does not please the sovereign – painful premonitions torment him.
In the cell of Chudov Monastery the old hermit Pimen writes a true chronicle about Boris, guilty of the death of the legitimate heir to the throne, Tsarevich Dimitri. Details of the murder are interested in a young monk Grigory Otrepiev. With excitement, he learns that the prince was his contemporary, and takes a daring decision: to call himself Dimitri and enter into a fight with Boris.
Gregory appears in a tavern on the Lithuanian border, along with random fellow travelers – runaway monks Varlaam and Misail. The bailiffs enter: they are searching for the runaway heretic Grishka Otrepiev. Reading the royal decree, Grishka calls the signs of Varlaam. The imaginary criminal is seized, but deception is revealed, and the Pretender has to flee.
The Tsar’s theater in the Kremlin. Boris consoles his daughter Xenia, who is grieving for the deceased fiance. And in the family and in public affairs there is no luck to the king. His efforts to earn the people’s love are in vain, memories of the committed crime are excruciating. Prince Vasily Shuisky, a crafty and treacherous courtier, brings news of the appearance in Lithuania of the Pretender, who named himself Demetrius, supported by the king and the pans. Boris... is in a state of confusion. He severely interrogates Shuisky, a witness of Dimitri’s death, whether the prince really died. However, Boris can not listen to the story: he imagines the ghost of a dead baby.
The girls are entertained by the songs of Marina Mnishek, who is bored in Sandomirsky Castle. The ambitious Polka, who dreams to occupy the throne of the Moscow kings, wants to capture the Pretender. In the interest of the Catholic Church, this is demanded of her by the Jesuit Rangoni.
Together with a crowd of fun-loving pans, Marina walks out of the castle into the garden. Here she is waiting for the Pretender. By cunning and caressing Marina kindles his love. It will belong to him, when at the head of the Polish army the Pretender will seize Moscow and become the ruler of Russia.
Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. People are eagerly catching rumors about the approach of the Pretender. He believes that Demetrius is alive and will save him from Boris’s tyranny. The royal procession begins. The hungry people stretch out their hands with a desperate plea: “Bread!”. The miserable Yurodivy throws a heavy accusation in the face of the autocrat: he asks Boris to slaughter the boys who offended him, as he slaughtered the little prince.
In the Faceted Chamber of the Kremlin the boyar Duma assembled. Everyone is excited by the news of the Pretender. The belated Shuisky tells of the secret sufferings of Boris. Unexpectedly, before the eyes of the boyars, the king himself appears, in fear of driving away the ghost of the child. The torments of Boris reach the limit when the chronicler Pimen, intentionally brought by Shuisky, narrates about the miraculous healing of a blind man who prayed over the grave of Demetrius. The king does not stand up and falls without feeling. When he wakes up, he calls for Fyodor’s son, and, having barely time to say the last words of parting words, he dies.
A peasant uprising flares up brightly. On the forest clearing, near the village of Kromy, the people mock the Borisov voivod, straightened out with the Jesuits who fell under the arm. Varlaam and Misail incite the rebellious people, talking about torture and executions in Russia. The Pretender appears, the people cheerfully greet him. But the holy fool predicts new misfortunes to the people. “Grief, grief of Russia, cry, Russian people, hungry people,” he sings.