Oprichnik (‘The Oprichnik’)
- Richard Taruskin
Opera in four acts by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky to his own libretto after Ivan Lazhechnikov’s tragedy (1834); St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 12/24 April 1874.
The title character, Andrey Morozov (tenor), is a boyar’s son who joins the oprichniki (the tsar’s mercenary retinue, set up to assert his power against the boyars) in order to avenge his family’s honour against the depredations of Prince Zhemchuznïy (bass), with whose daughter Natal’ya (soprano) he is in love – and she with him, though plighted to another. He is disowned and cursed by the boyarïnya Morozova (contralto), his widowed mother, which catastrophic event prompts him to seek release from his vows. The tsar (an offstage presence in the opera by reason of the censorship but represented by a spokesman, Vyazminsky, baritone) ostensibly grants Andrey’s request and also approves his marriage to Natal’ya; but then by trickery Tsar Ivan gets Andrey to break his vows just before their expiration, providing a pretext to have him executed before his mother’s eyes, thus killing her as well. The opera is dedicated to the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich; Eduard Nápravník conducted the première, with Ivan Mel’nikov as Vyazminsky....