Sergei Prokofiev "Ivan the Terrible" (Ballet in two acts)
World premiere: 20 Feb 1975 Bolshoi Theatre
Premiere of this production: 08 Nov 2012
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
"Ivan the Terrible" is music by Sergei Prokofiev originally composed for the Sergei Eisenstein film about the sixteenth-century ruler. Prokofiev composed music to Part 1 in 1942-44, and to Part 2 in 1945; the score is cataloged as Op. 116. After the composer’s death, music for the film was arranged first into an oratorio (with speaker, soloists, chorus, and orchestra) by Alexander Stasevich (1961), who was the conductor of the film score, and later into a concert scenario by Christopher Palmer (1990).
Yet in 1973 the composer Mikhail Chulaki and the choreographer Yuri Grigorovich drew on Prokofiev’s film score to create his ballet entitled Ivan the Terrible, which was given its premiere in 1975.
— The ballet world believe that Prokofiev belongs to ballet. And my production was being brought into existence quite naturally, despite seeming contradictions between the central character and the essence of ballet itself. There were no doubts whatsoever that this music can bring the stage dance to life. My conception was based primarily on music, not on something else — stories from Russian history, characters’ biographies, their psychological characteristics, folk „background” and the like, assigned to or even imposed on me by numerous ballet analysts. No — and I will repeat again and again — it was only Prokofiev’s music. My concept started with it forty years ago and it is still confined to music now.
The opening night performance at the Bolshoi, Moscow took place in February 1975. Yuri Vladimirov (Ivan IV), Natalia Bessmertnova (Anastasia), Boris Akimov (Prince Kurbsky) danced the leading parties, Algis Juraitis conducted the first performance. The premiere caused great resonance. That same summer the troupe toured in the USA, where „Ivan the Terrible” created a great sensation and collected innumerable comments from viewers and media. Next year the ballet was staged at the Paris Opera, where it met the same warm reception, and soon it was shown on the stage constructed specifically for this performance in Louvre during the summer season.
The ballet lasted in the repertoire of the Bolshoi till 1990 inclusively, and 99 performances were given all in all. Approximately the same number (may be a little less) were given while touring in France, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Britain and other countries.
I started to work with „Ivan the Terrible” for the third time with great relish. It was when I staged it for the Kremlin Ballet troupe in 2001. In 2003 I was invited to the Paris Opera again and there I revived the ballet with French dancers from the new generation. After that I ran one more production at Krasnodar.
Referring once again to the same music and plot I still do not strive to make collisions of that era actual now. Of course we have no power over associations and possible coincidences between XYI and XXI centuries. But in my performances I have never aspired to make assessments of such global events... The message of ballet is quite different!
© Photo by Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre.
The bell-ringers proclaim young Ivan IV’s accession to the throne.
The boyars are disgruntled by the fact, each claiming to have the ancestry at least as noble as the tsar’s.
At the bride show Ivan is to select one of the Boyar daughters as his wife and Tsarina in the future. Eventually, he chooses Anastasia.
Prince Kurbsky is in despair: he is in love with Anastasia, and now he’s losing her for ever.
The alarm bell tolls. The bell-ringers signal a foreign invasion. Ivan leads Russian regiments into the battle side by side with Kurbsky.
Death mows down the soldiers, but the harbingers of victory portend defeat for the invaders. Russian regiments force the enemy back. The battle is won!
Anastasia is anxiously awaiting Ivan’s return.
The Russian warriors return victorious and joyously meet their loved ones. Ivan and Anastasia are reunited again. Russian people rejoice in their country’s triumph over the enemy.
However, grim news begin to spread all over the country: the tsar has suddenly fallen ill. Anastasia is appalled; the boyars are growing active, each of them aspiring to the throne. Yet furious is the Tsar, who has unexpectedly recovered from his sickness, and merciless will he be with the treacherous boyars.
Ivan and Anastasia are enjoying mutual happiness.
The boyars are planning a conspiracy and Kurbsky is engaged in it. A poisoned chalice is brought in, and Anastasia falls their first victim. Kurbsky beholds the agonizing Tsarina in horror. The terrified boyars scatter.
The bell-ringers knell Tsarina’s death and the treachery of the boyars. The tumultuous nation stands on the verge of revolt.
Ivan mourns at Anastasia’s coffin. His imagination conjures up an image of his beloved.
Kurbsky has nothing to do but flee the country, dreading the tsar’s revenge. The boyars are expecting vengeance, too.
People dressed in monastic garb appear: these are the Oprichniki the tsar decided to surround himself with. He entrusts them with exterminating treason and crushing the power of the boyars. The boyars are seized and massacred by the Oprichniki. Ivan the Terrible personally takes reprisal against them.
Dark are Ivan’s thoughts — the thoughts of a man who lost his love, of a tsar surrounded by enemies.
Haunted by phantoms, Ivan writhes at the thought that he has given up humanity in his struggle and has doomed himself to a life of loneliness.
Frantically does Ivan the Terrible seek a way out of the labyrinth of contradictions set up by history.
© Photo by Damir Yusupov
© Bolshoi Theatre
Sergei Prokofiev "Ivan the Terrible" (Ballet in two acts)
on the playbill
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia