There Is a Litvinenko Opera and It’s Terrible


This includes his death scene, which is based in part on Litvinenko’s real-life final statement, but as you can see from the clip below, it reduces what was a powerful statement to a protracted and sometimes repetitive address, which doesn’t do the original justice. This tendency to repetition is a flaw throughout the opera, and Bolton’s seemingly earnest attempt to tell us all the facts and really delve into the details behind the case has resulted in a drawn-out, almost preachy production.

Sung in English, the production uses extensive historic film footage, and can be viewed in its entirety (if you’re into that sort of thing) on YouTube:

When the reviews poured in after the production opened last July, it probably wasn’t one of Bolton’s best days ever, as while the staging and some of the performances were praised, the music was fairly unanimously panned. 

While The Guardian gave it the back-handed compliment of being ‘half-decent’ and ‘heartfelt but flawed’, The Telegraph said it was ‘hobbled by a hectic score’, The Independent called it ‘overlong and anonymous’, and The Times’ Richard Morrison said it was ‘worthy but dull… shame about the music.’ Yikes.

To be fair, Marina Litvinenko was pleased with the way the production shone a spotlight on her family’s story.

It’s not the first time Litvinenko’s poisoning has been depicted on stage. The Crown’s showrunner Peter Morgan also features Marina Litvinenko in his play Patriots, and Lucy Prebble – co-creator of I Hate Suzie – also wrote a stage adaptation of A Very Expensive Poison, Luke Harding’s book about Litvinenko’s death, which debuted at The Old Vic in 2019.



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