(No, I DON’T speak Russian…)
For my OTF contribution today, I wanted to discuss a work by the Ukrainian writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852). Considered by his contemporaries one of the preeminent figures of the natural school of Russian literary realism, his early works, such as Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, were influenced by his Ukrainian upbringing, Ukrainian culture and folklore.
The first story in the second volume of the collection, Noch pered Rozhdestvom - literally translated “The Night Before Christmas” - was used by both Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov as the backdrop for operas.
The plot is at times confusing, and involves the devil, a blacksmith and a beautiful girl, Oksana. The blacksmith wants to marry Oksana, who tells him she won’t marry him unless he can get for her the slippers off the Tsaritsa’s feet. The blacksmith elicits the help of the devil to get the slippers. You can see how that could get messy… There is, however, a happy ending.
Tchaikovsky had two attempts at this opera: "Vakula the Smith, or Christmas Eve", op. 14 in 1874 and “Cherevichki” (Fancy Slippers) in 1885.
From the Tchaikovsky Research page:
The revised opera is known under other titles: The Little Shoes, The Tsarina's Slippers, Les caprices d'Oxane, Gli stivaletti or simply The Slippers.
The second composer to try his hand at this story is Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Composed between 1894 and 1895, “Christmas Eve” had its premiere on 10 December 1895 in St. Petersburg.
I have two versions of the complete Rimsky version for you – the first is in Russian, and is a vintage performance by Nicolai Golovanov (MONO) from 1948. Follow the links from:
The second is in English from a student performance in 1977 at the Indiana University:
Tomorrow, I will be back with another post on another Christmas opera.