The Imposter by Jurgis Karnavicius: A Ballet-Fantasy on a Historical Plot

Anton Vagero, Nina V. Pilipenko


One of the first Lithuanian composers to work in the genre of ballet was Jurgis Karnavičius (1884–1941). In 1928 he introduced a choreographic scene based on his tone poem The Lithuanian Rhapsody, that engaged interest in the genre of ballet among Lithuanian composers. Afterwords Karnavičius composed four full-length ballets that were offered to a variety of European theatres. Unfortunately, due to the events of World War II, there had not been any production of the ballet organized. Fortunately, the musical material of the ballet was preserved, including The Imposter (1940). The libretto written by Elena Pavlovna France is based on historical events in Russian history of the first decade of the 17th century — the beginning of the Time of Troubles. The main characters of the ballet are the future tsar-imposter False Dmitry I and Marina Mniszech, whose fates are tied to both Russian, Polish and Lithuanian history. The ballet was influenced by the works of great Russian composers, such as Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky and A Life for the Tsar by Mikhail Glinka, most specifically, their “Polish acts.” At the same time, The Imposter added new plot motives that allow us to see the uprising of False Dmitry from a different perspective. Karnavičius’ ballet continues to be preserved in the Lithuanian Archive of Literature and Music up to the present day. The hope remains that these materials shall not only be published, but also performed.

Keywords: Jurgis Karnavičius, The Imposter, Lithuanian ballet, False Dmitry I, Marina Mniszech, the Time of Troubles

For citation: Vagero, A., Pilipenko, N. V. (2024). The Imposter by Jurgis Karnavicius: A Ballet-Fantasy on a Historical Plot. Contemporary Musicology, 8(1), 104—128.


Jankauskas, A. (2017). Etapi formirovanija nastional’nogo repertuara litovskogo baleta [The Formation Stages of the Lithuanian National Ballet Repertoire] [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Russian Institute of Art History. (In Russ.).

Žiūraitytė, A. J. (2004). Karnavičiaus baletai: sukurti, bet nepastatyti. In Jū. Burokaitė (Ed.), Jurgis Karnavičiaus (pp. 231–240). Petro Ofsetas.

Skrynnikov, R. G. (2007). Smutnoe vremya. Krushenie tsarstva [The Time of Troubles. The Collapse of the Kingdom]. AST: Khranitel. (In Russ.).

Langer, L. N. (2021). Historical Dictionary of Medieval Russia (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Perrie, M. (2008). The Time of Troubles (1603–1613). In M. Perrie (Ed.), The Cambridge History of Russia (pp. 409–432). Cambridge University Press.

Burokaitė, J. (2004). J. Karnavičiaus gyvenimo ir kūrybos kelias. In Jū. Burokaitė (Ed.), Jurgis Karnavičiaus (pp. 9–90). Petro Ofsetas.

Kozlyakov, V. N. (2022). Marina Mnishek [Marina Mniszech]. Molodaya gvardiya. (In Russ.).

Eylbart, N. V. (2015). Sem’ya Mariny Mnishek: nesostoyavshiesya praviteli Rossii [The Family of Marina Mniszech: Unaccompliced Rules of Russia]. Philology Faculty of St. Petersburg State University. (In Russ.).

Eylbart, N. V. (2020). The False Dmitry I in Polish-Lithuanian Public and Political Opinion 1603–1604. RUDN Journal of Russian History, 19(4), 920– 933. (In Russ.).

Kozlyakov, V. N. (2009). Lzhedmitrij I [False Dmitry I]. Molodaya gvardiya. (In Russ.).

Mathuber, D. (2021). Die Vorbildwirkung des ersten falschen Dmitrij für samozvanstvo und ihre Grenzen. In D. Ordubadi (Ed.), Die „Alleinherrschaft“ der russischen Zaren in der „Zeit der Wirren“ in transkultureller Perspektive (pp. 237–258). V & R unipress, Bonn University Press.

Ordubadi, D. (2021). Die Hochzeit der ersten gekrönten russischen Zarin Marina Mniszech und die Rolle der Frauen in den Machtverhältnissen Moskowiens. In D. Ordubadi (Ed.), Die „Alleinherrschaft“ der russischen Zaren in der „Zeit der Wirren“ in transkultureller Perspektive (pp. 327–356). V & R unipress, Bonn University Press.

Morris, M. A. (Ed.). (2018). Writing the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry in Russian Literature. Academic Studies Press.

Zieliński, J. (2022). The Long Duration of Greatness from Tsarina Marina through Marshal Michał Mniszech to Balzac and Twentieth-Century Writers. Techne. Seria Nowa, 9, 185–199.

Meshcheryakova, L. A. (2020). The Archetype of the Impostor in Western European Literature of the XVII–XIX Centuries and in the Historical Novel Lzhedmitry by D. L. Mordovtsev. Modern Humanities Success, 5(1), 260–266.

Podgornaya, E. G. (2023). People and Power in Boris Godunov by A. S. Pushkin and Dimitry the Impostor by F. V. Bulgarin. Vestnik TvGU Series: Philology, 78(3), 240–243. (In Russ.).

Dahlmann, D. (2021). Der ‚Falsche Dmitrij‘ (Pseudodemetrius) in der Publizistik und Literatur West- und Mitteleuropas vom frühen 17. bis ins 20. Jahrhundert oder Russland als der „Boden des Despotismus“. In D. Ordubadi (Ed.), Die „Alleinherrschaft“ der russischen Zaren in der „Zeit der Wirren“ in transkultureller Perspektive (pp. 259–296). V & R unipress, Bonn University Press.

Al-Shayban, S. (2021). The False Dmitry and James the Old Pretender: Mary Pix’s The Czar of Muscovy. Quaestio Rossica, 9(2), 647–665.

Joseph, P. S. (Ed.). (2023). Historical Dictionary of Baroque Music (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Vasilyeva, A. L. (2009). Folk, Historical and Cultural Basis of Polish Dance. Vestnik Akademii russkogo baleta imeni A. Â. Vaganovoj / Bulletin of Vaganova Ballet Academy, 21(1), 113–131. (In Russ.).

Tomasz, N. (2016). Taniec narodowy w polskim kanonie kultury. Instytut Muzykologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.


Copyright (c) 2024 Anton Vagero; Nina V. Pilipenko

License URL: