The Oprichnik at the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg

Published: November 20, 2015

I am so excited about studying in St. Petersburg because I get the chance to see a lot of Russian operas that are not performed in theaters in the West. As a Russian musicologist, it is wonderful to have excess to the musical performances at the Mariinsky theaters. Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is the Russian composer who got me interested in the Russian School of music. I was introduced to his music as a young girl and I am still discovering his music to this day. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Tchaikovsky and to celebrate, the Mariinsky Theater premiered a new production of his opera The Oprichnik. This opera of Tchaikovsky has not been staged at the Mariinksy Theater since 1917. I have never heard the music to this opera and I was so excited that I would be attending the world premiere of this new production. Once again, I would get the chance to see Valery Gergiev conduct an opera.

Tchaikovsky made his Mariinsky debut with The Oprichnik. The opera is in four acts with the libretto written by Tchaikovsky himself. The tragedy The Oprichnik by Ivan Lazhechnikov (1782-1869) was the inspiration for the subject of the opera. Tchaikovsky worked on the opera from February 1870 to March 1872 and includes music from his earlier failed opera The Voyevoda (1869). The Oprichnik was dedicated to Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, the brother of Tsar Alexander II. The opera premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on April 24, 1874 in St. Petersburg. The subject of the opera is about the oprichniki, the personal guards of Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible). These guardsmen were formed during the period of Ivan’s reign know as the Oprichnina. Ivan IV abdicated the throne because of treason from the boyars and the clergy. The boyars were unable to rule in his absence and asked Ivan to return to the throne. He agreed to return on the condition of being granted absolute power, with the means to execute and confiscate the estates of traitors without the interference from the boyar council or the Church. The boyars accepted Ivan IV’s demands. The oprichniki enjoyed social and economic privileges. They owe their allegiance and status to the Tsar and not to heredity and local bonds. The oprichniki were given estates that were confiscated and they were not accountable for their actions. They held complete control over the Russian people.

I was always interested how an opera based on this time period would translate on the stage and once again Tchaikovsky proved what a musical genius he was. I was surprised by how much the storyline flowed between the acts. The opera focused more on the love story of the two young characters and the betrayal of a son to his mother then the role of the oprichniki. I was really impressed how they used the stage of the Mariinsky Theater Concert Hall for an opera production. I enjoyed The Oprichnik so much that I have brought another ticket to see it again.

The Oprichnik/ Опричник
Mariinsky Theater Concert Hall
Mariinsky Opera Theater, Ballet, and Academy of Young Opera Singers
Valery Gergiev (conductor)

About the author

Jesika Berry

Jesika Berry holds a bachelors of arts in music performance (flute) from Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia. She has formerly been a principle flautist for AUC Symphony Orchestra (Atlanta) and a cellist for the Huxford Symphony Orchestra (Tuscaloosa). After completing SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship program, she hopes to go on to graduate studies in Russian musicology.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

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