THE HISTORY OF THE PRESENT MAN
Opera in three acts (ten scenes)
Libretto by S. S. Prokofiev and M. A. Mendelson-Prokofieva
Alexey, the pilot
Olga, the bride of Alexei
The guys from the collective farm
Grandfather Mihailo, chairman of the collective farm
Petrovna, the collective farmer
Varya, daughter of my grandfather Mikhaila
Andrey Degtyarenko, pilot, friend
Kukushkin, the pilot
Baritone or bass
Pilots, collective farmers.
Time: The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
HISTORY OF CREATION
Prokofiev devoted his last opera to the glorification of the unprecedented courage of Soviet people during the Great Patriotic War. Literary source was the eponymous story of B. Polevoy (1946), which is based on the true facts of the heroic biography of the pilot Alexei Maresiev. This is one of the first Soviet operas in which the events of the recent war were resurrected. The creative courage of the composer’s idea consisted not only in ideological content, but also in the fact that the whole atmosphere of action-air battles, the hospital ward, the aerodrome-was breaking conventional notions of operatic convention. In much of the work, the protagonist is shown sick, physically
Prokofiev began the work of the opera in October 1947 and finished it in August 1948. Closed viewing took place on December 3, 1948 in the Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet. S. M. Kirov. Twelve years later, on October 7, 1960, the premiere of The Tale of a Real Man was shown at the Bolshoi Theater of the USSR. At the same time, the librettist MA Mendelson-Prokofiev and the director made a number of changes to the libretto; the action became more concentrated, dynamic. Some reductions have been made. In this edition of the opera was a great success and was staged at the National Theater of Czechoslovakia in Prague.
In air combat, enemy fighters shot down Aleksey’s car, he was in a remote, deserted forest, where every branch is fraught with danger, each rustle threatens to die. We must move east to our own, but something happened with our legs: every step causes unbearable pain.
Three days of a painful journey led Alexei to the edge of the forest, which keeps traces of the recent battle. A dreadful picture is represented by a dead field: lined tanks, ripped cannons, frozen corpses of fighters. The pilot is absolutely exhausted, he wants to lie down, forget himself. But the wounded understands that it is worth at least a little relax the will – and he will not rise any more. On his chest he keeps a photo of his beloved, he remembers the Volga, Kamyshin. Memories give birth to a new influx of energy. Although crawling, but moving forward. The roar of cannonade does not cease – the front is near.
Two guys, Fedka and Serenka, are watching with amazement because of the bushes, like a beast, or a man rolling on the snow, issuing a deafening groan from time to time. The boys called to him. It’s hard to believe that this emaciated creature is a Soviet pilot. They are convinced in this by the tears of Alexei’s joy, for the first time in 18 days of his hard journey he heard his native speech. The children told him that the Germans had burnt their village, and everyone had to go into the forest. Now the collective farmers live in dugouts. Gently wrapping Alexei, they take him to their sledges.
In the dugout of Mikhail’s grandfather, the ray is dimly lit. Slowly flowing old man’s thoughts about the economy ruined by the invaders, the approaching pore of sowing. Misses Varvara about the missing man-front-line soldier. In semi-oblivion, Alexei quietly moans on the bunks. His condition worries all residents of the forest village. Grandma Vasilisa slaughtered a single chicken to back up the wounded. The noise of approaching aircraft is heard. In the dugout is Andrew, the regimental friend of Alexei. This Serenka informed him of the wounded pilot. Alexey is taken to the capital hospital.
On the hospital bed, Aleksey anxiously raves after having just undergone surgery. Doctors, mother, Olga, Andrew are drawn in his inflamed consciousness. Tangled visions are accompanied by a persistent thought: he lost his legs, they will be burdened by relatives, in vain they wait for fellow soldiers. After all, a pilot without legs, that a bird without wings, can still live and peck, but never fly. Nurse Claudia tries to calm the patient. And life in the ward goes on as usual. Commissar Vorobyov talks about the heroism of the Red Horsemen in the Civil War. As usual, Kukushkin bites. Dreams of a meeting with Anyuta Gvozdev, who has fastened correspondence with female medical students. Only Alexei closed up, went into his sad thoughts. But the commissar picked up the key to his soul. He found in the magazine an article about the lieutenant Karpovich, who, despite amputation of his foot, continued to fly out. Alexei thought: he lost both legs, and modern aircraft requires much more dexterity and skill. But he is a Soviet man! Alexei makes the decision to come back at any cost.
Spring is approaching. Recoverers dream of a speedy return to the front. Alexei persistently trains, with a huge effort of will, forcing himself to take the first steps on prostheses. Gvozdev looks uneasily in the mirror at the face disfigured with burns. Kukushkin fussed, amazed at the endurance of his friends. And only Commissioner Vorobiev, who managed to bring all the inhabitants of the House to their feet, to revive in them the love of life, confidence in achieving this goal, is weakening every day. How grieved the wounded perceive, his death.
Before discharge from the hospital, Alexei finally decided to send a letter to Olga, inform her about her injury, about all that she had suffered and experienced, about the inner struggle that he had to endure.
In the sanatorium of the pilots there is a joyful revival – a group of tourists is allowed an early discharge. They will go to defend the city on the Volga, where the fate of the Motherland, the outcome of the war, is being decided. And Alexei hoped to return with them to the front, but the medical commission did not satisfy his request and sent to work in the rear. To show how cleverly he owns prosthetic devices, Alexei takes part in the dances. His self-control and self-control forces doctors to change the decision. They send Alexei to the training school.
Alex, Andrey and Anyuta admire the beauty of the lake, gently illuminated by the moonlight. Their thoughts are directed to fighting friends in the army. There is a front panorama. Fate are hundreds of fighters, believing in a close victory over the enemy.
At the forest airfield, everyone is waiting for Alexei’s return from a combat flight. The wounded Andrei tells how Alexei rescued him in an air battle. He does not believe that his friend, who returned to the system at such a cost, died. The plane is shown. Comrades joyfully greet Alexis, who accomplished a new feat. He will fight again.
In the center of the opera, her main character is Alexei Meresyev. From the picture to the picture its fate, experiences, doubts, hopes are traced, and only incidentally tells about the people surrounding Alexei. Everything is subject to the disclosure of his remarkable spiritual appearance. The basis of the musical language of the opera is a folk song, which serves as a means of characterizing actors and dramatic situations.
Life-affirming sounds of the orchestra entry. At a rapid pace, the march-like theme of victory and the lurid, majestic theme of the persistence of the Soviet man are sweeping.
Deep drama, emotional tension is different music of the first picture. Accompanied by Aleksey’s recitative monologue “Podshibli…”, like a gloomy shadow covering the clear sky, the orchestra repeatedly presents a harsh melodic theme of the war. It is contrasted with an epic force, a pathetically colored theme of nature, a reserved forest. In a symphonic intermission, a tautly pulsing background shades out the volitional composure of the melody rising in the basses.
The second picture (“The Dead Field”) conveys the stupor of death, the stagnation of the place of the recent battle. Olga’s light and sweet song, in which the composer uses the melodies of his songs “The Boyfriend’s Friend” and “The Warrior’s Love.” The second symphonic interlude, like the first, draws Alexei’s painful path. The meekly sorrowful melodious phrase, sounding on the background of the theme of the forest, conveys a sense of physical pain, the agonizing efforts of the wounded.
In the third picture, the expressive melody of the flute accompanies the story of Serenka about atrocities in the village. The originality of the speech of disturbed people in the scene of the arrival of collective farmers is conveyed with clear characteristic details. Their discordant ensemble ends with a choral song about a young oak; its smooth waltz-shaped movement, flexible melody are imbued with great warmth and sincerity. In the symphonic afterword (3rd entr’acte) this simple melody, in the spirit of lingering lyrical songs, acquires the generalising significance of the theme of the real man, glorifying the greatness of the feat of the wounded pilot.
The fourth picture expressively reproduces the life of an underground village. The penetrating melody, reminiscent of the folk song “What are you, Varenka-joy, despondent,” conveys Varvara’s longing for her beloved. Grandfather Mikhail’s aria “One joy” combines the rhythmic urgency of the chastushka with a broad chant. The joyful hopak Andrey sounds cheerfully and sharply.
In the fifth picture (the second act), the scene of delirium of Alexei occupies the central place. Against the backdrop of an excitedly fast orchestral party, nervous, imploring remarks of the patient alternate, strong-willed orders of doctors, affectionate mother’s words, Olga’s song, Andrew’s patter. Thoughtfully, unhurriedly sounds a little harsh folk lyric song “Green grove” by Claudia. Purposefulness, volitional activity permeated the ballad of the Commissioner; her main melody is already familiar on the first two intermissions. A lively playful character is Kukushkin’s chastushki “Anyuta”. The scene of Alexei with the Commissioner ends with a life-affirming melody of the song about the young oak.
A bright contemplative mood painted Andrei’s arioso “Spring. In Kamyshin streams” in the sixth painting; music depicts a poetic image of a burgeoning nature that inspires cheerfulness and confidence in a person. An effective dramatic contrast is the episode of the death of the Commissar, An explosion of despair and grief is restrained by the wise concentrated folk song of Claudius “My Dream is Sweet, Hasty.”
The seventh picture (the third act) is the unfolded aria-monologue of Alexei (a letter to Olga); here in music the theme of spring, sounded in the previous picture, dominates.
The joyfully raised chorus of pilots “Soon into battle” opens the eighth picture. A general revival, faith in a close victory is conveyed by the first theme of the overture, sounding here. Waltz, foxtrot, temperamental rumba, reproducing the everyday background of life in a sanatorium, simultaneously become an important link in the characterization of Alexei. In the center of this scene – the playful duet of Andrei and Kukushkin “Everyone in the world marries someone.” The departure of the pilots is accompanied by the music of the overture.
The ninth picture consists of two contrasting sections: “Barcarol” and “Front.” A light, fascinating rhythm of entry introduces the silent smoothness of a forest lake, the light sliding of a boat. As a memory of Olga sounds in the arioso of Alexei melody of her song. Expressive music lyric trio (Alexei, Andrei and Anyuta) “Like the stars of the distant soft light” 4. A majestic harsh color is given to the chorus of fighters “Our country calls our native country”, to which Olga, Anyuta, Alexei and Andrey (a quartet with a choir) join; his musical prototype was the old soldier song “Moscow is glorious road-road”.
The theme of victory (the overture, the eighth picture) serves as the musical refrain of the tenth picture. Friends joyfully welcome the return of Alexei, his new combat feat. Joy aristocratic Alexei “Thank you, told me”, his second letter to Olga and the duo breathe joyful confidence and tranquility. The opera ends with a solemn choral song about a young oak tree.
1 The opera includes several treatments of authentic folk tunes, shortly before the creation of The Tale published by Prokofiev for voice with a piano.
2 In the editorial office, which is on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater of the USSR, the opera opens with a chorus of “Rose in the Furrows of young oaks” (Act I, 3 picture). In the future, the characterization of music is given according to this edition.
3 This song was written by Prokofiev a decade earlier and was published under the title “Song of the Motherland” in 1939.
4 In the production of the Bolshoi Theater, the first half of the ninth painting (Barcarol) is being produced.