The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko

Anthony Bolton

16 Jul - 18 Jul 2020


A world première by composer Anthony Bolton, to a libretto by Kit Hesketh-Harvey

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.

With the Orchestra of English National Opera

English National Opera

Sung in English

Music: Anthony Bolton (b. 7 March 1950)

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

World première: 16 July 2020, Grange Park Opera, Surrey


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Alexander Litvinenko: Adrian Dwyer
Marina Litvinenko: Rebecca Bottone
Boris Berezovsky: Andrew Slater
Head of KGB: Andrew Watts
Anna Politkovskaya: Olivia Ray
Andrei Lugovoy: Edmund Danon


Conductor: Stephen Barlow
Director: Stephen Medcalf
Designer: Jamie Vartan
Video design: Will Duke
Movement: Lynne Hockney
Lighting Design: Simon Corder

From the composer

Hear from composer Anthony Bolton about his world premiere.

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  • Act 1

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

    Sasha is sent to Chechnya to wipe out resistance but returns changed, having seen the sincerity of the young Chechen fighters, while Russian generals live it up.

    When asked to assassinate oligarch Boris Berezovsky, he refuses. He meets the FSB head to tell him about FSB corruption and makes a video criticising the FSB. He is imprisoned and decides he must flee abroad.

    As thanks for sparing his life, Boris Berezovsky helps Sasha’s family escape Russia and bankrolls them once in London. At Boris’ 60th birthday party at Blenheim Palace, 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.


  • Act 2

    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 and delivers chilling news: the FSB is using an image of Sasha’s face for target practice.

    Later they 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 Sasha at the hotel and offers him tea which contains Polonium. Sasha declines 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.

    In the final scenes Sasha is in hospital and on his deathbed blames Putin but believes that Russia will rise again. He falls back on the bed and dies. Marina sings a final lament to the accompaniment of a Russian Orthodox funeral prayer.

Members have priority booking from Tuesday 22 October

Public booking opens Tuesday 17 March

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Thursday 16 July 2020


Saturday 18 July 2020