Khovanshchina (Russian: Хова́нщина, Hovanščina, "[The] Khovansky [Affair]") is an opera in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky to a Russian libretto by Vladimir Stasov, based on the events of the Moscow Uprising of 1682. Written between 1872 and 1880, the work was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881. It was first performed on 21 February 1886 in Saint Petersburg, after Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated the score. Because of the heavy cuts and "recomposition" at Rimsky-Korsakov's hand, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera based on Mussorgsky's vocal score, and it is this version that is usually performed today. Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky also produced versions of the work.
Like Mussorgsky's earlier Boris Godunov, The Khovansky Affair deals with an episode in Russian history, first brought to the composer's attention by his friend Vladimir Stasov. In this case, it concerns the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, his Old Believer followers, and the Streltsy, against Peter the Great, who was attempting to institute Westernizing reforms to the country. Ultimately, Peter succeeded, the rebellion was crushed and (in the opera, at least) Khovansky's followers committed mass suicide.
Red Square. Shaklovity, a Boyar, dictates an anonymous letter to the Tsar, warning of a rebellion by Khovansky (captain of the Streltsy Guards) and the Old Believers. Ivan Khovansky arrives and promises a crowd of people to defend the Tsar against treachery. Andrey Khovansky, Ivan's son, chases in Emma, a German girl, but is fended off by Marfa, an Old Believer. Ivan threatens to kill Emma, but is prevented by the arrival of Dosifey, the leader of the Old Believers. Marfa leaves with Emma.
Prince Vasily Golitsyn's house. Marfa tells the prince's fortune, saying that he will fall from power. After she leaves, Golitsyn orders his servants to kill her. Ivan Khovansky appears to complain that Golitsyn has interfered with the Boyars, but Dosifey enters and persuades the two to work together. Marfa, who has been saved by the Tsar's guards, reappears, followed by Shaklovity, who tells the group that the Tsar has been warned of their opposition to him.
Marfa is overheard singing of her love by Susanna, a fellow Old Believer. Marfa admits to Dosifey that she loves Andrey Khovansky.
Ivan Khovansky's house. Khovansky is warned by a servant of Golitsyn that he is in danger, but Khovansky ignores the warning and watches his servant girls dance. Shaklovity enters and murders Khovansky. In Red Square, Golitsyn is led into exile. Dosifey mourns the conspirators' downfall. Marfa offers sanctuary to Andrey with the Old Believers. The Streltsy are led to their execution. Peter, through an agent, intervenes to pardon them (which is not in agreement with historical fact).
In a forest. Dosifey and his followers prepare to immolate themselves. As Dosifey, Marfa, Andrey and the Old Believers perish in the flames of a burning chapel, Peter's soldiers arrive in a vain attempt to capture them.
While not as well known as Boris Godunov, this opera is, in some ways, more accessible. The pace of the action is slow, but there is more in the way of traditional vocal lines as compared to the earlier opera's use of a more speech-like style. There are also some fiery set-pieces, in particular the Dance of the Persian Slaves. While Khovanshchina is not seen on stage often, especially in the West, it has been recorded several times. More recently it is to be performed by Welsh National Opera in both Wales and England in 2007.