In an 1825 book, Russian historian Ivan Karamzin describes how Tsar Ivan the Terrible chose his third bride, Marfa Sobakina, out of over two thousand women. Her family was raised to the level of nobility and made wealthy. Marfa died two weeks after the wedding. Karamzin suggests Marfa's demise involved treachery and poison. Mey took this account and ran, filling in the holes to create his play, The Tsar's Bride, in 1849. Rimsky-Korsakov became interested in Mey's The Tsar's Bride in 1891 and he began composing slowly and methodically. Although the opera was planned in the grandest manner for the Imperial Theaters, it had to receive its premiere at a small theater under private sponsorship. On October 30, 1901, nearly two years after its first performance, it finally appeared on the Imperial stage.
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