I – The Courtyard of the Novodevichiy Monastery
near Moscow or Starting from Scratch
The future is uncertain after the collapse of the old
world. The boyar Boris Godunov has been chosen as the new
tsar to lead society out of its torpor. However, he hesi-
tates in accepting this choice. The disoriented people are
then driven to plead loudly with him to change his mind.
A group of believers inspires confidence in the masses. A new
command is issued: the people should assemble before
the Kremlin in the morning. Nobody knows why.
II – The Square in Front of the Kremlin or
Old Becomes New
Bells ring out and the people cheer as Boris Godunov
is crowned Tsar. The new ruler humbly accepts his task, then
generously invites the masses to a party.
III – Pimen’s Cell or Into the Depths of the Past
The young monk Grigoriy awakes from as nightmare
that regularly haunts him. He entrusts himself to Pimen,
who is writing a chronicle of Russia: since his childhood, he
has known nothing but life in a monastery, and he feels
a call to something else. Pimen exhorts him to remember
the past, and tells him of the greatness of former times.
Grigoriy is especially interested in the story of a crime: years
ago, Tsarevich Dmitriy, the last child of the old dynasty,
was murdered in the city of Uglich. Pimen, who was in
Uglich at the time, remembers the story vividly: the murderers
seized by the people had named the current Tsar
Boris Godunov as the one who had ordered the crime. When
Grigoriy learns that the Tsarevich, had he still been alive,
would have been his age and the ruler, he swears to hold
Godunov to account and makes a momentous decision.
IV – An Inn at the Lithuanian Border or Who Are You Really?
Grigioriy is wanted throughout the country as a heretic
and hatemonger. Accompanied by the unsavoury mendicant
monks Varlaam and Misail, he has made his way to
the border. While his companions get drunk in a tavern,
Grigoriy learns that border patrols have been reinforced.
The landlady tells the young stranger of a safe way to the
other side. Suddenly, a border guard appears and orders
the reading of an edict. Grigoriy, as the only literate one, is
able to divert suspicion from him to Varlaam. In order to
save himself from arrest, Varlaam painstakingly spells out
the description of the profile Grigoriy is then recognised
as the fugitive, but manages to escape.
V – In the Kremlin or News of a Resurrection
Boris’ daughter Xenia is in mourning, as her groom has
died before the wedding. Neither her nurse nor her father
are able to comfort her. Her brother Fyodor delights his father
with his geographical knowledge of the empire he
once himself shall rule. Boris entrusts his worries to his son:
in his six years of governing, he has yet to win the affection
of the people. They even blame him for every misfortune.
Prince Shuysky, whom Boris suspects of intrigue, brings
urgent news: a young man is pretending to be Dmitriy,
the true heir to the throne, and is laying claim to the throne
from abroad. The mention of Dmitriy’s name worries Boris:
did he not die in Uglich years before? Schuysky, who was l
ater dispatched to the crime scene, swears that he unequivocally
identified the body as that of Dmitriy. However,
Shuysky shakes Boris deeply with mention of a strange detail:
even after a couple of days, the body would have shown
no signs of decay and appeared to look alive. Left alone,
Boris is haunted by the picture of the murdered child.
VI – The Square in Front of the Cathedral of St Vasiliy or
Who Is Our Tsar?
While Grigoriy reads the banns and the requiem to
Dmitriy in the cathedral, confusing messages spread around
the square about the approach of Tsarevich Dmitriy and
his mercenaries. Many believe the authenticity of his identity
and, unsatisfied with Boris and his politics, would
certainly welcome the fall of the current Tsar. A Holy Fool is
humiliated by children. When the Tsar enters the square,
the people beg for alms. The Holy Fool openly decries Boris
as the murderer of the Tsar’s child and refuses to pray for
VII – Boris’ Death or Guilty Forever
At the Tsar’s behest, the boyars are to pass judgement on
the fake Tsarevich. They impose the death penalty on him
and his supporters in absentia. Schuysky arrives late and
again causes uncertainty: he reports that the Tsar is suffering
from delusions. Boris himself provides the boyars with
a testimony of his psychological deterioration. Schuysky
plays his last card in his scheme against the Tsar: he compels
Pimen to speak. Pimen tells of the miracles of the
dead Dmitriy’s bones while Boris suffers a breakdown. He
calls for his son, bids him farewell, and declares him his
rightful successor. Conscious of his guilt, Boris dies without
having been forgiven.