Opera in 3 acts and 4 scenes, Op. 3 (1867–68).
The numbering, titles and tempo are taken from the reconstruction in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том 1 (1953). Act I is divided into five "episodes" (явления). The titles of numbers in Russian (Cyrillic) are taken from the published score, with English translations added in bold type. Vocal incipits are given in the right-hand column, with transliterations below in italics.
The story is set in a town on the River Volga during the mid-seventeenth century:
Act I. In the garden of Vlas Diuzhoy, a wealthy merchant, his daughters Marya and Praskovya contemplate the latter’s wedding to the Voyevoda [=provincial governor] Shalygin. After all have departed, Marya’s suitor Bastryukov secretly enters the garden and serenades her. They are interrupted and hide when the Voyevoda arrives, accompanied by Marya’s parents and servants. Marya is discovered hiding in the bushes, and the Voyevoda is immediately attracted to her. He declares that he will marry her instead of Praskovya. Bastryukov tries in vain to save his beloved.
Act II. In Bastryukov’s house (Scene 1) his servants await his return from hunting. He enters, followed by a stranger, Dubrovin, who reveals that his wife Olyona has also been seized by the Voyevoda. The two men agree to join forces and rescue Mariia and Olyona. In the Voyevoda’s house (Scene 2) Marya is lamenting her fate. Olyona enters to tell her that Bastryukov will be waiting for her in the garden after dark. They are interrupted by Marya’s nurse Nedviga and her maids, who try to comfort Marya by singing and dancing.
Act III. In a courtyard outside the Voyevoda’s home, Bastryukov and Dubrovin have plied the guards with drink, and anxiously await the arrival of their lovers. Marya and Olyona arrive, and all join in a joyful quartet. This is interrupted by the arrival of the Voyevoda and his servants, who seize the couples. When Marya again declares her love for Bastryukov, the Voyevoda angrily carries her offstage. She escapes again, just as the New Voyevoda enters. He has been sent by the Tsar who has learned of Shalygin’s crimes. The latter is arrested, and the couples are reunited.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 12–13
The first reference to the idea of the opera The Voyevoda appears in Tchaikovsky’s letter to Anatoly Tchaikovsky of 8/20 November 1866: "Now I’m busy revising my Symphony and then perhaps I shall gradually start on an opera. There is hope that Ostrovsky himself will write a libretto for me on The Voyevoda" .
The libretto for the opera’s first act was received from Aleksandr Ostrovsky in March 1867. In the copybook containing sketches for the opera, Tchaikovsky made the following note: "Received from A. N. Ostrovsky 1st Act libretto. 5 March 1867. Started to write on the 8th" [OS] .
The music for Act I was composed during March and April; the composer did not write in any of the words. In late April/early May Tchaikovsky lost the libretto, as he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 22 May/3 June , and he was forced to ask Ostrovsky to provide another copy of the text. It is not clear exactly how much Tchaikovsky had lost, but in the composer's archive there is a manuscript by Ostrovsky containing the reconstructed libretto for the whole of the first act, and for the first scene of Act II.
Before leaving Moscow for his summer holidays, Tchaikovsky went to visit Aleksandr Ostrovsky, but could not find him, as he informed the writer from Hapsal on 10/22 June 1867: "You were already in the country. I was very upset leaving for the summer without having had a single line of the libretto, but now I am even rather glad that this happened, because I suppose that you have not even begun the second act, and this might allow me to suggest that you might consider the following new plan for the second act. After the duet for Dubrovin and Bastryukov, I would very much like to introduce Olyona into this act, with the following factors serving as the motive for her appearance:
If you are agreeable to these changes, then perhaps we could do without the first scene of the second act".
At the end of his letter, Tchaikovsky cautioned Aleksandr Ostrovsky: "I ask you not to hurry; I will spend the summer finishing off the orchestration of the first act; then during the winter and coming summer I hope to write the remaining three" .
It follows from this letter that the opera was planned in four acts, and that the composer already had the libretto of Act I
Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s diary refers to his work on copying out the libretto . He began this task on 4/16 June 1867, and on 8/20 June Act I was finished. Work was continually interrupted, since at the same time Ostrovsky was writing a libretto for Aleksandr Serov's opera The Power of Evil. From his diary it would appear that he was much more enthusiastic about his work on the latter project than on The Voyevoda, and he concentrated on this other plan. On 17/29 June, Ostrovsky sent Tchaikovsky the portion of the libretto that he had prepared, with a covering letter: "I am sorry for delaying your libretto, I have had a lot of work to do. I am sending all that I have managed to do, and the remainder will follow shortly... Have no fear, kind sir, I shall certainly keep my promise" . Nevertheless, to judge from his diary entries, by late August/early September, Ostrovsky had done no significant work on the libretto of The Voyevoda
In May, Tchaikovsky reworked his Characteristic Dances, written in 1865, which were used in the opera’s second act as Dances of the Chambermaids, and then between June and August he orchestrated them along with Act I of the opera .
On his return to Moscow on 31 August/12 September, Tchaikovsky once again called on Aleksandr Ostrovsky, and that same day he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "Ostrovsky continues to deceive me; in Saint Petersburg I read in the newspapers that he had finished my libretto, but this is completely untrue, and I had great difficulty prising half of one old act from him" . Evidently, this was the libretto of the first scene of Act II. In an undated latter, probably written in September 1867, Tchaikovsky again asked Ostrovsky for the libretto: "For the sake of all that’s holy—find a spare moment and finish off what you promised me. I can do nothing without the missing scenes from the second act" . But by 28 September/9 October work on the opera had resumed: "The opera is gradually taking shape; Ostrovsky has gone to Saint Petersburg for a while; when he comes back from there I shall pounce on him" .
However, Tchaikovsky's collaboration with Aleksandr Ostrovsky on The Voyevoda was over. In 1882, the composer wrote to Sergey Taneyev about this: "This most kind man [Ostrovsky]... wrote the first act and the first scene of the second act for me himself. I began to compose, but having written the first act, I became disillusioned with the subject and the music I had written and decided to abandon composition, so after that I did not further trouble Ostrovsky. But it so happened that the singer Men'shikova wanted a new opera for her benefit, and she prevailed upon me to finish the opera, so I somehow cobbled together the remainder (both the libretto and the music)" .
On 25 November/7 December 1867, Tchaikovsky told his brother Modest: "The opera is now going quite successfully; the whole of the third act is written, and the dances from it, which I orchestrated in Hapsal, will be performed at the next concert" .
It is impossible to establish how much work had been done during the winter of 1868, but in mid/late February 1868, Tchaikovsky was engaged in orchestrating Act III, as he wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "Over the last few days I have made a start on orchestrating the third act. I really want to finish the opera by the summer" .
The first production of the opera was set for 11/23 October 1868, and the rehearsals began in early/mid September . Tchaikovsky, who was obliged to attend, did not consider it possible to learn the opera so quickly. On 25 September/7 October, he told Anatoly Tchaikovsky that the premiere had been postponed: "You already know that my opera was due to be put on in October; the parts had been copied out and rehearsals had started, which I am supposed to attend. Of course, this was merely going through the motions. Seeing that it was not possible to produce the opera in such a short time, I pointed out to the local director that at the current presence of the Italian Opera was distracting the chorus and orchestra, and so I would not give them the full score... In the circumstances rehearsals have been suspended, and the opera postponed until the Italians have left" .
A new date for the premiere was set for December 1868 , but the opera was further postponed. The first performance took place on 30 January/11 February 1868 at the Bolshoi Theatre, at the benefit for the artist Aleksandra Menshikova, conducted by Eduard Merten .
Vladimir Odoyevsky noted in his diary: "This opera guarantees a great future for Tchaikovsky" .
In the 1870s, Tchaikovsky, displeased with his work, destroyed the full score of the opera. Subsequently he re-used parts of the music in the opera The Oprichnik (1870–72), the ballet Swan Lake (1875–76) and the overture The Year 1812 (1880). In 1868 Tchaikovsky also wrote a piano Potpourri on themes from the opera.
The Voyevoda was not printed in full. In 1873, Pyotr Jurgenson published the full score of the Entr'acte & Dances of the Chambermaids, and in 1891 he issued the orchestral parts for this number; in 1892 and 1893 he brought out the full score and orchestral parts respectively of the Overture.
After destroying the opera, Tchaikovsky concurred with the critics’ verdict—mainly that its structure was inadequate, and unsuitable for a stage performance. Thus, in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck of 27 November/9 December 1879, the composer wrote "The Voyevoda is without any doubt a bad opera. At the time I considered the music to be more than just adequate, but by common consent it was considered to be a mediocre opera. In the first place, the subject was not suitable, i.e. it was devoid of dramatic interest and plot development; secondly, the opera was written too quickly and without much thought; because of this it did not translate into opera, and was not suited to the literary stage; I had simply tried to write music to a given text; somehow I had in mind something between opera and symphonic styles. In composing an opera, the author should keep the stage in mind, that is to remember that the theatre presents difficulties not only of melody and harmony, but also in action; this should not bore the opera audience, who have not only to listen, but also to watch; and, lastly, that the style of theatrical music should match the style of the scenery, and therefore be simple, clear and colourful... In The Voyevoda I concerned myself too much with fine details, and completely forgot the scene and all its words. It might be said that the concerns of the author paralysed the musical inspiration to some degree, and that is why symphonic and chamber music styles are so different to opera. In a symphony or a sonata I have freedom, with no constraints whatsoever. But for opera one has in the main address the musical language of the masses. And one more thing—opera has to be played a number of times during the course of a season, which is a basic difference from a symphony, which might be performed once in ten years!!!... But I took issue with the critics of The Voyevoda with regard to its third failing—the predominance of the orchestral textures over the voices. All these failings arose as a result of inexperience. It is necessary to go through a number of attempts in order to achieve a degree of success, and I am not in the least ashamed of my operatic failures. They have been very useful lessons and pointers for me" .
In a letter to Sergey Taneyev of 29 October/10 November 1882, in response to the news that Anton Arensky was working on an opera on the same subject, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I am so glad that henceforth I shall cease once and for all to be the author of The Voyevoda! Remembering this opera, and also The Oprichnik, is like recalling some criminal offences I committed long ago" .
In Act I of The Voyevoda, Tchaikovsky used the folk songs A Duckling was Swimming on the Sea (На море утушка купалася) in the women's chorus, and Beyond My Yard (За двором лужок) in the maidens' khovorod. In Act II, Marya Vlasyevna's song The Nightingale (Act I, No. 2) is based on the melody of the tune I Wear My Hair in a Plaid (Кося ль моя косинка), which Tchaikovsky heard in Kuntsev in September 1867, and noted down himself . The text of this song in the opera was probably written by Aleksandr Ostrovsky .
The introduction to Act II of The Voyevoda borrows from the Overture in C minor (24 bars, which in turn, were taken from the overture to The Storm). In Act 1, No. 7 (bars 134–197) the orchestra; part is completely taken over from the same Overture in C minor. The duet in Act I uses music from the third movement of the cantata Ode to Joy.
The opera The Voyevoda was reconstructed from surviving sketches, orchestral parts and solo parts by Pavel Lamm . The remaining pages were filled in by Vissarion Shebalin. The opera was published for the first time in 1953 in this version (full score and vocal score) in Tchaikovsky's collected works .
In 1949 the opera was produced on the stage of the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad. For this production the missing pages from the full score were completed by Yury Kochurov. In this version, the opera became established in the theatre's repertoire.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 11–17
This page was last updated on 02 April 2013