The Tsar's Bride (Carskaja Nevesta)
Grigory Gryaznoy, a cavalry officer (oprichnik) of the Tsar’s Ivan the Terrible retinue, is madly in love with Marfa, the daughter of a rich Novgorod merchant,Vasily Sobakin. The girl, however, is promised to Ivan Likov, a nobleman whom she has known since she was a child. Gryaznoy holds a feast at his home; among the guests invited are Likov, who has recently returned from a journey in Europe, the Tsar’s physician and alchemist Yelisey Bomelius and another officer of Ivan the Terrible’s retinue, Grigory Malyuta-Skuratov. Gryaznoy introduces to the company his mistress, Lyubasha, who then sings for them. Once the feast is over and the guests are gone, Gryaznoy detains Bomelius and asks him to prepare a philtre that will cause a girl to fall in love. The physician agrees, but Lyubasha overhears the conversation. She realises that Gryaznoy is no longer in love with her and wants the philtre to seduce someone else. Once they are alone, Lyubasha begs Gryaznoy to love her, but he leaves impatiently and Lyubasha, wild with jealousy, swears to have vengeance on her unknown rival.
The Love Philtre
As the people make their way home after vespers, they discuss the latest news and the Tsar’s plans for marriage.Two young men are seen to be leaving the home of Bomelius and the crowd convinces them that the physician is indeed a sorcerer.Marfa confesses her love for Likov to her friend, Dunyasha. The two girls attract the attention of a passing horseman, whom they do not recognise, but who is actually the Tsar, Ivan the Terrible. They are then joined by Likov and Sobakin, and together they all enter the latter’s house. Lyubasha arrives and begins to spy on the merchant’s house. She sees the beautiful Marfa and despairingly realises that the girl is her rival. Lyubasha decides to speak to Bomelius and to ask him for a poisonous potion that will destroy Marfa’s beauty and youth. In exchange, however, the physician demands the woman’s love; at first, Lyubasha refuses, but soon afterwards, under the pressure of Bomelius’ threats, in desperation she surrenders herself to him.
The Best Man
In the merchant’s home, Sobakin, Likov and Gryaznoy discuss Marfa’s imminent marriage to Likov, whose best man will be Gryaznoy. However, the wedding cannot be announced until the Tsar has chosen his own bride. It appears that Ivan the Terrible has reduced the number of girls eligible to be his future wife from two thousand to twelve, and that among them are Marfa and Dunyasha, whose mother, Domna Saburova, enters the scene saying that it is very likely that the Tsar will choose Dunyasha. Gryaznoy then proposes a toast and, taking advantage of the situation, pours the potion prepared by Bomelius into Marfa’s cup. Unbeknown to him, Lyubasha has swapped the love philtre for the poison she has had from the same physician. The celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of Malyuta Skuratov who announces that the Tsar has chosen Marfa as his bride.
Marfa, who now lives in the Tsar’s palace, is afflicted with a mysterious illness. Gryaznoy is convinced that her illness has been caused by some mistake made by Bomelius in preparing the potion, but he has accused Likov of poisoning the girl. He now comes and announces that Likov has confessed his crime under torture and that he, Gryaznoy, has put him to death by order of the Tsar. Marfa faints at the news and then begins to show signs of madness, taking Gryaznoy for Likov in her delirium.Gryaznoy realises that, instead of winning Marfa’s love, he has unwittingly poisoned her. Overwhelmed with remorse, he confesses that he is responsible for the girl’s illness and that he has unjustly accused and killed Likov. Then Lyubasha enters and confesses in turn that she has replaced the love potion with the poison and so is the true culprit behind what has happened. Furious, Gryaznoy throws himself at her and kills her. Before Gryaznoy is arrested and taken away to await judgement, Marfa, who has by now lost her mind, takes him once more for her beloved Lykov.