Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The Story of 'The Maid of Pskov"

ACT ONE begins outside the home of Prince Tokmakov, in the Russian city of Pskov. Olga, Tokmakov's youthful daughter, is in the garden with some friends and the nurse Vlasyevna tells them all a folk tale.

When Olga is left alone, the young man Tucha quietly appears. He and Olga are hoping to be married and they sing a love duet. But Tokmakov doesn't approve the match. Instead, he has arranged for Olga to marry an older man, called Matuta.

Before long, Tokmakov and Matuta are heard entering the garden. Tucha runs off, while Olga hides, and overhears her father's conversation. Tokmakov tells Matuta that Olga really isn't his daughter at all. She's actually the child of his wife's sister, and her father is unknown.

The scene changes to the main square in Pskov, where the citizens have assembled. A messenger rides in with news. The Czar Ivan, has destroyed nearby Novgorod and now he's headed their way. Tokmakov urges the people to submit to Ivan and hope for mercy. Tucha disagrees. He assembles a band of rebellious militants, and they march off to defend the city.

As ACT TWO opens, with the Czar and his army approaching, Olga and Vlasyevna worry about the fate of Pskov. Hoping to avoid destruction, the people of the city hail Ivan as he enters the square in a grand chorus that ends with the deafening peal of church bells.

The scene changes to Tokmakov's home, where Ivan has made his headquarters. He ridicules the citizens of Pskov, and their hope of remaining independent. It's time for a meal, and Ivan demands to be served, personally, by the lady of the house. That's Olga — and when she appears with the food, the Czar is obviously shaken.

When Ivan and Tokmakov are alone, the Czar learns that Olga is the daughter of Tokmakov's sister — a woman named Vera Sheloga. Hearing this, Ivan immediately orders his troops to stand down, and leave Pskov in peace.

ACT THREE opens on a road in the woods, where Olga and Tucha have arranged a meeting. While they're together, Matuta shows up. His men attack Tucha, beating him severely, and then drag Olga away.

The opera's final scene takes place in the Czar's encampment, where Ivan is pondering his next move. When he learns that Olga has been abducted, he's angry. He orders his men to find her, and bring her to him. When she appears, he addresses her using a patronymic — calling her Olga Ivanovna --and that reveals the truth. Ivan himself is the father Olga never knew.

Then there's a commotion outside the camp. Tucha and his rebels never learned that the Czar has suspended his attack on Pskov. They now confront Ivan's forces, bent on killing the Czar himself. As they approach Ivan's tent, Olga is caught in the crossfire and shot to death. Tucha's men move confidently toward the city, leaving Ivan to mourn for his daughter as the opera ends.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit