The opera was based on Alexander Pushkin's play of the same name. Boris Godunov is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. After several revisions, the show finally opened in St. Petersburg in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre and was well received by the public. Unfortunately, critics weren't so fond of it. Tchaikovsky said, "I consign [Boris Godunov] from the bottom of my heart to the devil – it is the most insipid and base parody of music... Mussorgsky is a narrow-minded individual devoid of any desire to educate himself, blindly putting his faith in the preposterous theories of his circle and in his own genius... his is a low nature, rough, crude and coarse... [he] flaunts his illiteracy and is proud of his ignorance."
I'm no expert on music, but I kinda liked it. Like I said, the public loved it. They were singing choruses from it in the streets afterward. Tchaikovsky must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed that day.....
In the beginning the people of Russia are depressed and suffering and crawling like zombies on the streets. Boris Godunov arranges for the assassination of the Tsar's half-brother Dimitri. When the tsar dies, he pretends to decline the crown, but his his agents convince the suffering populace to acclaim him as the new Tsar. In the monastery Pimen, a monk, is writing a chronicle of Russia, complaining to Sergei about йу, йо, йа, йы, etc., drinking beer, and telling Grigori about the history surrounding Boris. Grigori gets all riled up and decides to avenge Dimitri so he leaves, pretending to be Dimitri.
Grigori's lover Marina prances around with some lively girls while getting dressed and dreaming of becoming tsarina. Rangoni, her Jesuit confessor, exhorts her to support the Catholic cause. She, of course, falls off her chair and screams. Later, she joins Grigori in a "moonlit rendezvous" and tells him to go on with his plan.
In the Kromy forest, the people are ready to riot against Boris so they go with Grigori to Moscow. Boris becomes mentally unstable, prays for Russia, and then dies.
How can that not be a crowd pleaser?