Opera bouffe

Igor Stravinsky
Libretto by Boris Kokhno based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin “The Little House in Kolomna”

Stage Director – Dmitry Bertman
Music Director – Kirill Tikhonov
Set and Costume Designers – Igor Nezhny and Tatiana Tulubieva
Orchestration  – Yuri Povolotsky

Playing time: 50 minutes (no intermission)
Premiere: April 10, 1990
Premiere of the updated version – December 22, 2001
Language of performance – Russian

The grotesque mix of piquant and touchy situations and characters, fantastic, but recognizable metamorphoses of Russian life, in which we find Pushkin heroes, are the basis for musical dramaturgy of the outstanding composer of XX century. Stravinsky freely mixes different music genres, virtuously using the richness of rhythms and temps and inserting elements of jazz and folklore into opera. The picturesque action takes place in front of the audience, who drink tea with barankas (Russian traditional crackers).


The second opera by Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky “Mavra” was opened on 3 June 1922 at the Paris Opera. Musical fairytale “The Nightingale” seemed to have been completed by him not a long ago, but there is a feeling that these two compositions were created by two different authors. Stravinsky did his best to make his new opera provoke this feeling. Later on, he always held to this strategy — constantly discovering something new in his art. In the Russian music there is a tradition to discover something new in the company of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. In search of the musical truth Dargomyzhsky went this way in “Rusalka” and “The Stone Guest”. Many composers “were walking with Pushkin”, among them are: Mussorgsky creating his national musical drama “Boris Godunov”, Tchaikovsky inventing the lyrical scenes for “Eugene Onegin” and Rimski-Korsakov shaping his new melodic style in “Mozart and Salieri”. It was a hard decision to choose a Pushkin’s masterpiece, which had not yet been perpetuated with the sounds by the genius predecessors. Stravinsky chose the poem “The Little House in Kolomna”. But what he did to it! The tradition required to treat the Pushkin’s poetry with a great care, ideally — not to change a word or add something. But in “Mavra” it was just the opposite: only general plot remained of the original text. Out of 432 verses of the poem libretto contained just… four. Pushkin tells us about the main heroine: 

She also could play the guitar,
And sang folk songs

No doubt: in the opera Parasha has another repertoire — “Ty ne poy kinareichka v sadu (Don’t sing in the garden, a little canary)”. The passed away cook Thecla in the original text could not cook anything except for buckwheat, — but in the opera she was able to cook the dishes, which had been described by the poet at another point of time and in another text. And everything was done in contrast to the original text. The classic told about the joke accident by the octaves, in other words he had borrowed the verses from “La Gerusalemme liberate” by Torquato Tasso, while Stravinsky didn’t preserved any signs of the aristocratic poetry, and partially lowered the language to the menial. Who would agree to do this to “The Little House in Kolomna”? The literary assistant of Stravinsky was Boris Kochno, the 17 year old secretary of Sergey Dyagilev. As he was very young, he wasn’t torn apart by doubts: he was eager to discover something new. Should Pushkin be thrown off the ship of modernity, as called the Russian futurists for in the manifest “A slap to the public smack”? No, going away from Pushkin, Kochno and Stravinsky did go back to him. The gem about “pike in tablecloth” is from “The Letter to Yudin”, “Drug moy mily, krasno solnyshko moe” and “Kinareechka v sadu” are from a folk song, written down by the poet in Boldino. There in Boldino “The Little House on Kolomna” was written in autumn 1830. So, “Mavra” upon which Stravinsky worked in Paris and Biarritz had been fed with the fruits of the Pushkin’s Boldino autumn. 


The plot unfolds in a small Russian town. The heroine, a young girl named Parasha has a secret admirer, Vassily. He appears in the opening scene as a dashing Hussar. Parasha's mother being a sensible woman is in no hurry to encourage a relationship between her daughter and an impecunious soldier. As a result Parasha and Vassily have to be careful and their meetings are few and far between. The death of the housekeeper gives the couple their chance for happiness, since Parasha is sent off to town to seek the services of a new domestic. She, of course, hires no less than her lover Vassily, and he, dressed in womens' clothes, accompanied by Parasha returns to the house. At first the mother is rather taken aback by the size and apparent clumsiness of the new maid, but having been assured of "her" worth accepts her readily enough. Things go wrong when Vassily, realizing that he has not shaved properly and that this spoils his disguise, removes his maid's attire and starts to shave. The mother, on her return from an outing with Parasha, sees the "maid" shaving and faints. Vassily seizes his chance and jumps through the window. Parasha fails to return him.

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