REVIEW: ‘Khovanskygate: A National Scandal’

Review of  the Birmingham Opera‘s ‘Khovanskygate: A National Scandal’.


This opera is epic. I counted the names in the programme – it features 303 performers – including a full orchestra. Despite this vastness, it feels immediate and immersing. You are involved in the dark politics of the Tsar, maybe too involved, as my friend found out when he was inadvertently struck by a performer rushing through the crowd. I went to the final rehearsal. Beforehand, a friend explained the story. ‘There’s no good guys, just different sorts of bad guys,’ she said ‘what you’ve got to remember is, they’re all a bunch of bastards’.

It featured Kremlin political assassinations, a far right religious group, a machine-gun wielding dictator, a corrupt – sometimes drunken – police force, women beating their husbands, women holding slogans like ‘sex is a weapon of war’, bodies arising from death and breaking out of body-bags, a man with a bra on his head singing on top of a police van, a powerful politician rolling in the dirt, dead souls clambering towards a newsroom, captives slowly stripping to their underwear and zombies walking into a van, and a weird party scene I won’t go into.

All bastards, eh?

At times it was scary, with policemen barging through the crowd, but his brings the subject of Tsarist Russia crushingly home. If you can feel intimidated by a battalion of opera singers in a heated Big Top in Birmingham, then how would you feel faced by real corrupt police? It lasts over 3 ½ hours, and you have to stand up, (limited disabled seating is available). Therefore it requires a certain endurance, but it’s well worth it. Standing meant there was close interaction with the piece moving around the four raised stages. If you can spare £17 (£10 NUS) and know someone who can drive, then I recommend see it. It was an evening I’ll always remember.

We were worried they’d lock the car in the car park, as the sign said it shut at ‘dusk’. Fortunately, they didn’t. In real life, thankfully, not everyone’s a bastard.

by contributor Fraser Campbell

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