Major Operas | A Life for the Tsar by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka | Early Romantic
Premiered: 1836, St Petersburg
Libretto by Baron Yegor Fyodorovich Rozen and others
The years of turmoil following the death of Tsar Fyodor I in 1598 might finally be coming to an end. The revolt of the ‘False Dmitri’ in 1605 has led to Polish intervention. In 1613, after an interregnum of nearly three years, Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov has been elected tsar, but has been forced to go into hiding in a monastery near Kostroma.
In the village of Domnino the peasants are affirming their devotion to the tsar. Antonida, daughter of the peasant Ivan Susanin, is preparing for her marriage to Sobinin, who arrives with news of Prince Pozharsky’s victories against the Poles. He asks permission to marry Antonida, but Susanin says they must wait until there is a lawful Russian tsar on the throne. When told of Mikhail Romanov’s election Susanin withdraws all objections to the marriage.
At the Polish court the nobility are celebrating their successes against the Russians in a series of national dances. A messenger brings news of the election of a Russian tsar, to challenge their own claimant. Some soldiers set off to capture the new tsar before his coronation.
Susanin assures Vanya, his ward, that no one would betray the tsar. They are joined by Antonida and Sobinin, and Susanin blesses the couple. Polish soldiers burst into the hut and demand to know where the tsar is hiding. Susanin eventually agrees to show them the way, but whispers to Vanya that he will take them in the wrong direction, giving Vanya time to raise the alarm. Antonida begs him not to go, knowing the Poles will kill him. After they have left, Sobinin and the peasants swear vengeance.
In the forest, Sobinin’s men have lost their way. Vanya arrives at the monastery and warns them that the Poles are on their way. The Poles suspect that they have been tricked and pitch camp. While they sleep Susanin takes leave of his life. When they awake, he tells the Poles how he deliberately misled them. As they beat him to death he sees the first light of day. Sobinin and the peasants fall on the Poles.
Among the crowds celebrating the tsar’s coronation are Antonida, Sobinin and Vanya, who are told that the tsar will never forget Susanin’s sacrifice.
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