When I first met my husband in the early 90's, he had a cassette tape with the coronation scene from Moussorgsky's Boris Godunov on one side, and Delibes' Coppélia on the other. Such an intriguing combination not only convinced me to marry him, but introduced me to some amazing music. Boris Godunov is based on a play by Pushkin about the tumultuous life of a Russian tsar who reigned from 1598 to 1605. Boris Godunov, descended from an old Tatar family, seized the throne from a feeble-minded ruler, and tried to hold Russia together in the dark years after the dark reign of Ivan the Terrible. The music and drama of Mussorgsky's opera captures the turmoil, intrigue, and violence of the era, as well as the mystical destiny of Holy Russia, always bleeding, always in search of redemption. According to World of Opera:
Boris Godunov is one of several 19th-century Russian operas that tackle complex, historical themes. Mussorgky's own Khovanschina is another, along with Borodin's Prince Igor and Glinka's A Life for the Czar. But Boris is the only one that still has a consistent place in the repertory – perhaps because it's far more than a historical drama.
In many ways, the opera is a sort of musical psychoanalysis — with more than one subject. The title character is one of them. Few operas pry more deeply into any single character's private emotions. The opera also presents a psychological portrait of the Russian people, which comes through in Mussorgsky's extensive and powerful use of choruses. The people are also represented by the Holy Fool – a unique and eerie character who turns up in the final act, and is left on stage alone at the opera's bleak conclusion.
Boris is a tsar particularly haunted by guilt; the score reveals his inner anguish which power and success cannot sooth. He eventually falls into madness. Considered to be the most majestic of Russian operas, regarded as revolutionary in its day, Boris Godunov explores the human conscience which, although it may sleep, never gives peace to those who betray it.