Opera in four acts
Libretto by IV Shpazhinsky
Prince Nikita Danilych Kurlyatev,
Grand duchess in Nizhny Novgorod
Princess Eupraxia Romanovna, his wife
Knyazhich Yuri, their son
Mamyrov, the old clerk
Nenila, his sister, the princess’s bed-gown
Ivan Juran, prince’s hunter
Nastasya, nicknamed Kuma, mistress of the visiting
The courtyard of the Oka crossing, a young woman
Fock, her uncle
Balakin, guest of Nizhny Novgorod
Kichiga, a fist fighter
Paisii, a tramp in the guise of a black man
Kudma, the sorcerer
Girls, guests from Nizhny, bailiffs, princely serfs, hunters and psyars, buffoons, people.
The action takes place in Nizhny Novgorod and its environs in the last quarter of the 15th century.
HISTORY OF CREATION
In 1885, Tchaikovsky’s attention was attracted to the popular at that time drama IV Shpazhinsky (1848-1917) “The Enchantress.” At the suggestion of the composer, the playwright wrote an opera libretto according to the play. The composition of music began in September 1885. The premiere of “The Enchantress” took place on October 20 (November 1) in 1887 in the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater under the direction of the composer.
Knowledge of the scene, the ability to interestingly and vividly develop the plot, the propensity for melodramatic effects brought Shpazhinsky’s plays a great
but transient success. Their content is usually exhausted by the themes of family relations, sharply, but superficially treated. In this sense, the “Enchantress” is typical for Shpazhinsky’s dramaturgy. However, Tchaikovsky saw in this drama the opportunity to create a realistic national-domestic tragedy.
The libretto of the opera is very different from the play. The number of acts has been reduced from five to four, most dialogues have been reduced, a number of secondary characters have been excluded, some scenes have been withdrawn. At the same time, some significant moments of the drama were developed, such as the episode of the clash between the townspeople and the prince’s servants, mentioned in the play, which grew up in an opera in an expanded mass picture. At the suggestion of Tchaikovsky was introduced a new character – sorcerer Kudma.
In the center of the opera is the image of Kuma – Nastasya, passionately fond of the life of a simple Russian woman. In the struggle for personal happiness, she reveals her spiritual stamina, moral purity and integrity. The image of Nastasya, the hostess of the tavern, the “sorceress”, enticing lodgers, is endowed with tragedy features. As Tchaikovsky wrote to the first performer of this role, EK Pavlovskaya, “in the depths of the soul of this walking woman there is a moral strength and beauty, which only had nowhere to speak out.”
Despite the active participation of Tchaikovsky, the libretto of the opera turned out to be largely imperfect. Already at the rehearsals of the opera, long songs appeared, prompting the composer to make significant cuts in music. In addition, the libretto suffered from stylistic vices; it was set forth in a pseudo-national language with an admixture of vulgar domestic dialect. The new edition of the opera text was created by the Soviet poet SM Gorodetsky for staging the Leningrad Academic Opera and Ballet Theater named after SM Kirov (1941).
“The Enchantress” represents a typical type for Tchaikovsky lyrical and psychological otsery with acute clashes, a tragedy conflict. From close in spirit works it is distinguished by the fullness of the Russian folk way of life. An important role in the musical characterization of Nastasia is played by the folk-song principle, which conveys the breadth and moral strength of her soul. Deeply national images of passionate, passionate in love and hatred prince, princess and prince Yuri: picturesque ominous figures of the deacon Mamyrov, vagabond Paisiy, sorcerer Kudmy. A great expressive force is reached by the orchestra drawing pictures of wide Volga expanses, dense forests, fierce storms.
The first act is opened with a breezy dance-song of the choir “Lyuba us oka, Kama is young to assemble.” In a lyrically thoughtful song “I’ll go, I’ll go out,” Nastasya appears as a simple Russian woman. Particularly vividly, her image is revealed in the broad melody of Arioso “Glancing from the Lower” (on which the orchestral introduction of the opera is based). The scene of the meeting with the prince is preceded by a heavy, dominant theme in the orchestra. The amazement of those present with the unexpected grace of the prince pours out in a large ensemble – a decimete with a chorus; contradictory feelings of its participants are united by a common mood of reverential admiration for the mighty power of beauty. The act ends with a dance of buffoons.
The second act is permeated with sharp contrasts; the tension increases, reaching a culmination at the end of the act. The song of the girls behind the scenes “How not a cloud stalet across the sky” is sustained in the spirit of lingering lyrical folk songs. The princess’s ariozo is full of anger and indignation. “Now the misfortune has come from where”; his melody is determined and energetic. Lyrically, the duet of the princess and the son “Give us God in happiness live.” In a brief monologue of Mamyrov “Me, I must be danced!” cruelty and vindictiveness of the clerk are conveyed by angular speech, opposing melodic chanting of other characters. Arioso of the prince “And the image of that prigozhnitsy is always with me” imbued with a hot, passionate feeling. A dramatically tense scene of popular indignation concludes this act.
The third act splits into two parts – the scenes of Kuma’s meeting with the prince and the prince. The majestic melody of the symphony entry is full of feelings of inner strength and dignity. This melody dominates Kuma’s scene with the prince; Throughout its length, dramaticism grows, reaching the utmost sharpness in the final episode. Quietly and confidently the initial phrases of Nastasya’s address to the prince are sounded; in the rapid development is embodied a large range of feelings, overwhelming Kuma: bitter irony, touching pleading, passionate longing, ecstasy with happiness.
The fourth act contains a tragic denouement. It is foretold by a mournful orchestral introduction. Yuri’s elegant arioso “Sweetest for me in the whole world” conveys feelings of love and anxiety. A wonderful lyric arias of Kuma “Where are you, my coveted one?” warmed by a tender feeling and a passionate impulse. In the scene of the meeting between Yuri and Nastasia the moods of stormy joy prevail. The opera ends with a picture of a storm.