The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Anthony Bolton


Exiled and living in London, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko becomes Putin’s most ebullient and needling critic. He learns that his former colleagues are using his face for target practice; a law is passed that allows Russian traitors to be killed anywhere in the world.

Just a few months later – in November 2006 – Litvinenko is poisoned with radioactive Polonium-210.

Alexander Litvinenko was a man who solved his own murder. As he lay dying, he worked with Scotland Yard detectives, and tracked the lethal dose to his former colleague – and football fan – Andrei Lugovoy.

This real-life story is told through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards covering events in Russia that lead Litvinenko to seek exile and his family’s life in Muswell Hill. Extensive use is made of historic film footage.

An opera in two acts

Sung in English

Music: Anthony Bolton (b. 7 March 1950)

Libretto: Kit Hesketh-Harvey (b. 30 April 1957)

World première: 15 July 2021


Alexander Litvinenko: Adrian Dwyer
Marina Litvinenko: Rebecca Bottone
Boris Berezovsky: Stephan Loges
Head of KGB: James Laing
Anna Politkovskaya: Olivia Ray
Andrei Lugovoy: Edmund Danon

Male 1                     Joseph Buckmaster
Male 2                     John Ieuan Jones
Male 3                     Phil Wilcox


Conductor: Stephen Barlow
Director: Stephen Medcalf
Designer: Jamie Vartan
Video design: Will Duke
Movement: Lynne Hockney
Lighting Designer: John Bishop


Act 1

Prologue: the chorus sings about polonium; Sasha (Alexander Litvinenko) delivers his famous deathbed speech.

It is six years since their arrival in the UK. Sasha and Marina recall their first meeting and his time with the FSB. In October 2002, a mass hostage-taking at Moscow’s Dubrovka Theatre is staged by the FSB to spread anti-Chechen feeling. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya helps negotiate with the terrorists.

There is an attempt to blow up oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s car; Sasha saves him from subsequent arrest.

Sasha is sent to Chechnya to help wipe out terrorist resistance. Poorly-clothed Russian troops have inadequate equipment whilst Russian generals prove ineffective and are drunk for much of the time. Having seen the sincerity of the young Chechen fighters, Sasha returns to Moscow a changed man.

When asked to assassinate Boris Berezovsky, Sasha refuses. He makes a video criticising the FSB and highlighting the endemic corruption. It is shown on Russian TV and Sasha is imprisoned. He realises Russia is no longer safe for him. He must flee abroad.

Act 2

As thanks for sparing his life, Boris Berezovsky helps Sasha’s family escape Russia and bankrolls them in London. Boris hosts his 60th birthday party at Blenheim Palace and Sasha runs into an old colleague, Andrei Lugovoy. They decide to set up in business; Sasha does not realise Lugovoy still works for the FSB.

Putin passes a law that Russian traitors can be killed anywhere in the world.

Journalist Anna Politkovskaya visits the Litvinenkos in Muswell Hill and tells Marina about her experiences in Chechnya. She delivers chilling news: the FSB is using an image of Sasha’s face for target practice.

The Litvinenko’s hear that Anna has been murdered outside her Moscow apartment on Putin’s birthday.

On the pretext of attending a football match, Lugovoy arrives in London. He meets up with Sasha and offers him tea laced with Polonium. Sasha declines at first but, dropping his guard, he drinks. That evening he feels ill. It takes time for the highly toxic Polonium to be identified. It emits alpha radiation that leaves a trail back to the closed city of Sarov in Russia.

We flashback to the meeting with the Head of the FSB at which Sasha sets out FSB corruption.

Sasha is in hospital. On his deathbed he blames Putin but believes that Russia will rise again. He dies. Marina sings a final lament to the accompaniment of a Russian Orthodox funeral prayer.