St Petersburg, Mariinsky II

Ivan the Terrible

ballet set to music by Sergei Prokofiev

Performance by the Bolshoi Theatre


Ivan the Terrible: Artemy Belyakov
Anastasia: Svetlana Zakharova
Prince Kurbsky: Denis Rodkin

The Bolshoi Theatre Children’s Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Pavel Sorokin

Premiere of the production: 20 February, 1975, Bolshoi Theatre
Revival – 8 November, 2012.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
The performance has one interval

Age category 16+


Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto by Yuri Grigorovich
Choreographer: Yuri Grigorovich
Sets and costumes: Simon Virsaladze
Music Director: Pavel Klinichev
Lighting Designer: Mikhail Sokolov
Designers of scenery revival: Natalia Pavlova, Mikhail Sapozhnikov
Designer of costumes revival: Elena Merkurova
excerpts from music to the film Ivan the Terrible, Russian Overture, cantata Alexander Nevsky, The Third Symphony
Mikhail Chulaki’s version and additional music excerpts


Act I
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.

Act II
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.

The world premiere of the ballet Ivan the Terrible took place at the Bolshoi Theater on 20th of February 1975. Yuri Vladimirov performed as the tsar, Natalia Bessmertnova as Anastasia, and Boris Akimov as Kurbsky. The second cast included Vladimir Vasiliev and Lyudmila Semenyaka. For Yuri Vladimirov, the title role became a milestone, and the part of Tsaritsa Anastasia became one of the most consistent to Natalia Bessmertnova’s acting personality and professional talents in her creative biography. The following tsars, which have always included artists, distinguished by technical virtuosity and endowed with acting temperament, – Mikhail Lavrovsky, Alexander Godunov, Irek Mukhamedov, Alexei Fadeyechev, Alexander Vetrov – left a vivid mark on this ballet’s history.
The libretto has no literary basis, and it was written by the choreographer himself. The musical score was compiled by Mikhail Chulaki from fragments of music by Sergei Prokofiev from the film of the same name by Sergei Eisenstein, and other works of the composer. The music, according to Yuri Grigorovich, became the main creative impulse for the creation of the ballet: “There was no doubt that this music could bring to life the stage dance. My idea was based on the music, and not on anything else, like plots of Russian history, biographies of characters, their psychological characteristics, folk "background" and so on, which were pushed onto me by numerous ballet commentators. No, and again no – there was only Prokofiev's music, the idea was born forty years ago, and we still stand by it today”. The scenery and costumes were inspired by ancient Russian architecture and fine arts, created by the choreographer constant co-author, theatrical artist Simon Virsaladze.
Work on the ballet Ivan the Terrible returned Yuri Grigorovich to his work’s origins. Again, like in The Stone Flower, his first ballet, the choreographer used the music of Sergei Prokofiev and embodied the themes from Russian life on-stage.
The dramaturgy of the new performance took into account the experiences of A Legend of Love and Spartacus, where history merged with legends. The plot of the ballet passes over particular areas, marking milestones in the life of the heroes and the state: Ivan's wedding to his kingdom, the bride and his wedding to Anastasia, his victory over foreigners, illness, the boyar conspiracy, the Oprichnina. Real characters such as groups of boyars, people, guardsmen and enemies coexist with allegorical figures of the Images of Death and the Victory Heralds. The performance is being led by the Six Ringers, forestalling twists in the lives of the heroes with festive chimes or tragic alarms.
Dance monologues alternate with external events, revealing the inner turmoil of the central characters: the conflict between Ivan as a tsar and Ivan as a man; Kubrsky’s drama, caught in a web of palace intrigues and unable to extricate himself from it, and therefore forced to flee to a foreign land; the meek joy and sadness of Anastasia, helplessly succumbing to death.
The performance went on at the Bolshoi until 1990. In 2012, it was resumed and remains in the repertoire to this day. Twice – in 1976 and 2003 – Yuri Grigorovich staged this ballet at the Paris Opera. The premiere of the ballet took place, in 2001, at the Kremlin Ballet Theater, and in 2006, at the Yuri Grigorovich Ballet Theater in Krasnodar.

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