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(No, I DONT 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 wont marry him unless he can get for her the slippers off the Tsaritsas 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:

In a letter to Nadezhda von Meck dated 24 November/6 December [1884], Tchaikovsky wrote: "I am rather busy in the mornings, namely I am contemplating changes which I intend to introduce to my opera "Vakula the Smith. This is one of my favourite creationsbut I am not blind to the fundamental shortcomings which afflict the opera and prevent it from remaining in the repertoire. I want to spend a few months removing those shortcomings, so that the opera can be staged the next season in Moscow".
During a sojourn in Paris in the winter of 1885, Tchaikovsky, in his words, "managed here to plan all the major changes to Vakula". In fact he commenced working on the revision to the opera in mid/late February, while settled at Maidanovo: "I started my work on Vakula with a fervent, fiery zeal". On 20 February/4 March 1885 Tchaikovsky reported: "I have written completely new scenes; everything that was bad I have discarded, everything that was good I have retained, simplifying unwieldy and overbearing harmoniesin a word I have done everything required to rescue the opera from the oblivion that it certainly did not deserve". And in the same letter he wrote that in a few days he would set to work on orchestration of all the newly-written sections.
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.