Opera in 4 acts and 5 scenes (1870–72).
The titles and tempo are taken from the first edition of the full score, published in 1896, while the numbering is that used in П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том 34 (1959) . Act 2 is divided into two scenes. 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 action takes place in the 16th century in Moscow, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.
Act I. Evening in Prince Zhemchuzhny's garden. The Prince has promised his daughter Natalya in marriage to Molchan Mitkov. She bemoans this fate to her old nurse Zakharyevna and her maids. Her true love Andrey Morozov arrives with his friend Basmanov, the Tsar’s favourite, and a group of oprichniks (the Tsar’s personal paid bodyguards). On Basmanov’s advice, Andrey has decided to join the guard in order to take revenge on the Prince for having robbed and evicted him and his mother. When they have gone, Natalya returns and mourns his loss, unconsoled by the singing and dancing of her maids.
Act II. In her peasant hut (Scene 1), Andrey’s mother, the Boyaryna Morozova, laments on her misfortunes and worries about Andrey’s association with the oprichniks. Andrey comes to tell her of his friendship with Basmanov, but she refuses all help from the oprichniks. Andrey does not tell her of his plans to enlist. At the Tsar’s headquarters in Aleksandrovskoye (Scene 2). Andrey takes a solemn oath of total loyalty to the Tsar, and has to renounce all previous liaisons with his relatives, his mother and his beloved Natalya. Their family’s old enemy Prince Vyazminsky does not trust the new recruit, but under pressure from Basmanov, he agrees to accept Andrey as a new oprichnik.
Act III. In a square in Moscow, the crowds complain about the behaviour of the oprichniks, and Andrey’s mother is taunted by boys as a “she oprichnik”. Natalya runs into her arms for protection from the pursuing Zhemchuzhny and her old groom. Andrey appears in time to save her, but the two women are horrified to find that his companions are the oprichniks. The Boyaryna Morozova condemns her son, and solemnly disowns and curses him. All are stunned at this turn of events. Basmanov suggests that the Tsar might consent to release him from his oath.
Act IV. At the Tsar’s quarters in Aleksandrovskoye, the wedding of Andrey and Natalya is taking place. Andrey is to be released from his oath at midnight. But before that hour, Prince Vyazminsky interrupts the festivities with news that the Tsar has sent for Natalya. Despite Vyazminsky’s insistence that this is only a test of Andrey’s loyalty, Andrey breaks his oath by refusing to let her go. He is arrested and Natalya is carried away to the Tsar. Vyazminsky leads the Boyaryna Morozova to the window, where she sees Andrey being executed. She screams and collapses to the ground, dead.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 22–23
The first reference to his intention to write an opera "on a subject adapted from Ivan Lazhechnikov's tragedy The Oprichniks" is found in a letter from the composer to Aleksandra Davydova of 5/17 February 1870 . The tragedy The Oprichniks was produced for the first time on the stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow on 6/18 October 1867, and was performed 15 times that season, and once more in the 1869/70 season. It is highly likely that Tchaikovsky saw the tragedy, in which Samarin, Vilde, Sadovsky, Rykalova and others took part, which led to the idea of an opera based on the same subject.
Initially work on the opera progressed slowly, is evident from the composer's letters: "I've been terribly lazy of late; the opera is stuck at the first chorus" . "In four weeks I've written nothing" . By mid/late April he had written "only a couple of scenes" .
On 23 April/5 May 1870. the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "My opera is going very sluggishly. I think the reason for this is that although the subject is very good, it doesn’t inspire me" . He reported the same to Ivan Klimenko on 1/13 May: "My opera ("The Oprichnik") is going very sluggishly, and I doubt that it will be finished within two years" .
On 18/30 May, Tchaikovsky travelled abroad, from where he returned in August. On 17/29 September 1870, the composer told Modest Tchaikovsky: "I've had no serious interest in anything all summer, apart from doing some new work on my overture to "Romeo". I'm starting to write the opera again, but very lazily" .
Throughout 1870, work on the opera was largely insignificant. No systematic work was done in the first months of 1871 (during February Tchaikovsky was mainly occupied with composing his String Quartet No. 1).
Tchaikovsky's letters from this period contain only a few brief notes about his work on the opera: 'I'm working little by little" , "I’ve written a little more of the new opera" , and "I’m writing the opera" .
In the spring, however, work became more intensive. On 29 May/10 June 1871, leaving to spend the summer at Kamenka, Tchaikovsky told Mily Balakirev that "all my soul is committed to composing the opera The Oprichnik" . No information survives as to what was composed at Kamenka. It is only known that by 15/27 July 1871 the instrumentation of Act I had been finished .
Returning to Moscow on 28 September/10 October, the composer told Nikolay Tchaikovsky: "I'm very assiduously composing the opera, which should be ready by the end of the year" . "I expect that this unfortunate opera will suffer the fate of my Undina, but nevertheless I want to finish it, because until then I won't be in a position to give my attention to any other works", he wrote to Mily Balakirev on 22 October/3 November 1871 . In Tchaikovsky's own words, the opera was "progressing slowly" , although he was hurrying to finish it by the spring.
In late December/early January, Tchaikovsky again left to travel abroad, returning in late January/early February 1872 . Information on his work on the opera during this period has not been discovered. According to the date on the manuscript, the instrumentation was completed on 20 March/1 April 1872 in Moscow. In a letter of 4/16 May 1872, Tchaikovsky informed Eduard Nápravník that he was sending the full score to Saint Petersburg the next day, and asked him "to look favourably on this composition and to use your good offices to secure its production" .
The opera’s libretto was compiled by Tchaikovsky himself . Unfortunately no references to his work on the libretto have been discovered. For the first scene of Act I, the composer used almost the entire libretto from the first scene of The Voyevoda.
On 27 May/8 June an agreement was concluded with Vasily Bessel, giving him the rights to publish the opera and libretto, and also the piano arrangements and vocal score . Tchaikovsky entrusted Bessel with arrangements for the production of the opera in Saint Petersburg . This production was considerably delayed, and met with a number of difficulties, principally from the censor .
The first production of the opera took place in Saint Petersburg on 12/24 April 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre, for Eduard Nápravník's benefit. In January 1874, Tchaikovsky arrived in Saint Petersburg for discussions with Nápravník concerning the staging of the opera. During rehearsals for this production, Nápravník asked Tchaikovsky to make some changes.
"For four whole days I’ve been working on cuts and changes to the score", the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 24 January/5 February. "I've seen Bessel. I’m glad to say that the problems with the censor have been overcome successfully. Everything is ready; from the second week in Lent rehearsals will take place every day" .
From the first rehearsals, Tchaikovsky experienced a profound disappointment with his composition. "No movement, no style, no inspiration!" . "I couldn’t stand the fiasco, yet at the same time received an excellent lesson in opera composition, because at the first rehearsals I could see my elementary blunders which I shall certainly not commit when writing my next operas", the composer wrote to Vasily Bessel on 18/30 May 1874 .
In later years (1884–88), Tchaikovsky often talked about the need for radical alterations to the opera . During the last year of his life, Tchaikovsky firmly decided to make a new version of The Oprichnik, and he withdrew the manuscript score from the music department of the Imperial Theatres. However, he did not succeed in carrying out this intention, and the full score was returned to the music department after the composer’s death.
The Oprichnik was first produced on the Moscow stage on 4/16 May 1875, at the benefit for singer Stepan Demidov, conducted by Eduard Merten. Tchaikovsky wrote on 12/24 May to Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I was present at numerous rehearsals of The Oprichnik, and with stoical fortitude I endured the systematic mutilation of this ill-fated opera, but without disgracing myself. However, the production of The Oprichnik last Sunday did not correspond with my expectations, in the sense that I was expecting far worse. They all tried very hard" .
The Oprichnik was the first of Tchaikovsky’s operas to be performed on the provincial stages. On 26 July/7 August 1874, The Oprichnik was performed in Odessa (arranged by Ferdinand Berger) with exceptional success. In Kiev the premiere took place on 9/21 December 1874 in the presence of the author and, in the view of the press, also went with great success.
Vasily Bessel wrote that the first production in Saint Petersburg "was a real triumph for Tchaikovsky; it undoubtedly rekindled his interest in the operatic genre... and also consolidated his aptitude for the stage" .
In September 1878, Bogomir Korsov, performing the role of Vyazminsky at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, asked Tchaikovsky to write an additional aria for him. The composer flatly refused to carry out this request: "At the present time conditions are unfavourable, and to work is impossible" . At this time Tchaikovsky decided to resign from the Moscow Conservatory. While refusing the request, he suggested that Korsov should ask the composer Grigory Lishin to write the additional aria, provided this was stated on the concert bills. But Korsov persisted, and Tchaikovsky relented.
On 7/19 October 1878, the aria was despatched to Korsov . In an accompanying letter, Tchaikovsky wrote: "Here is the aria which I promised you... If you do not consider it to be suitable, remember that I have done you a favour, and that at the moment I'm not at all in the frame of mind for composition... The aria has two couplets. It should be inserted after the chorus 'Its light flows upon us', page 110 in the vocal score, first line, 4th bar".
The composition of this additional aria was confirmed in the following report by Mikhail Ivanov in the journal New Time in 1897: "In passing we note that Tchaikovsky wrote a separate aria for the part of Vyazminsky, when The Oprichnik was given in Moscow. He wrote it especially for Mr Korsov, who has kept it until now. The aria was not considered to be meretricious, either by the composer or the artist, and has never been performed or published" . The vocal score of this aria was only rediscovered and published in 1986 .
In his article, Mikhail Ivanov also mentions that Tchaikovsky wrote an additional aria for Olga Puskova, a singer at the Kiev Theatre who performed the role of Basmanov. This is borne out by a letter from Tchaikovsky to Iosif Setov of 18/30 November 1874: "For God's sake don't think that I have forgotten my promise to write an aria for Puskova... I certainly don't know where to incorporate an aria for Basmanov. If inserted in the first act after Andrey’s additional aria, wouldn’t it hold up the action? For God's sake tell me where to insert this aria and what the text should be, whether you still want this, and whether you want it to be sent to you or should I write it when I come to Kiev?" .
It is unclear whether this additional aria for Basmanov was written, or whether he had already produced his own additional aria for Andrey in Act I.
In the 1879/80 season, The Oprichnik should have been revived on the stage of the Bol’shoi Theatre in Moscow. The premiere was scheduled for 28 December/9 January, but after the dress rehearsals the production was cancelled by government decree. Tchaikovsky wrote about this to Nadezhda von Meck on 8/20 February 1880: "The story of The Oprichnik is very curious: it has been banned, because the subject is considered to be too revolutionary for the present time" .
The vocal score of The Oprichnik was published by Vasily Bessel in February 1874 . During publication, the censors demanded changes to the text of Basmanov's arioso. And so, in a letter to Bessel of 25 March/6 April 1873, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I'm sending you the lines to replace the proscribed text in Basmanov's arioso... Of course, the previous lines were better, but these will have to do" .
On 30 May/11 June 1891, Vasily Bessel suggested to Tchaikovsky that the full score should be published, but met with strong opposition. In a letter to Bessel of 2/14 June 1891 from Maydanovo, Tchaikovsky wrote: "I absolutely forbid you to engrave, print or publish the full score of my opera ‘The Oprichnik’... The reason is as follows: The full score of an opera should only be printed if and when it is being staged somewhere, and with this in mind, there is clearly no demand at present. Currently the opera The Oprichnik is being given nowhere, and while I am alive I will do everything possible to prevent it being put on anywhere in Russia, at least not in its present form. To print an opera which is being performed nowhere, which is musically deficient and with absolutely outrageous orchestration, would be completely irrational. You know that I've more or less decided at some future date to subject The Oprichnik to radical revisions. Provided I live long enough, I shall certainly do this at the first opportunity" .
Vasily Bessel did not publish the full score during Tchaikovsky's lifetime. It was first published only in 1896 (passed by the censor on 16/28 October 1896). Sergey Taneyev assisted in preparing the full score for publication.
While composing the opera The Oprichnik, Tchaikovsky used fragments of music from his destroyed opera The Voyevoda. Music from the first scene of Act I and the second scene of Act II of the earlier opera forms the basis for the whole of the first act of The Oprichnik (except for Basmanov's, Andrey’s and Natalia’s ariosos). Bastryukov's melody in the style of a Russian song We Dream of the Mountains (Размычем мы горе) became Andrey's farewell speech in Act IV. Many of the recitatives were also reproduced in The Oprichnik. Besides music from The Voyevoda, The Oprichnik includes the second theme from the fantasia Fatum (in the duet for Andrey and Natalya in Act IV). The Dances of Oprichniks and Maidens from Act IV are based on the folk songs Our Wine Cellar (Винный наш колодец), Floating and Rising (Плывет, восплывает), Master Andrey Made Merry (Гулял Андрей господин), Merry Katya (Катенька веселая) and Little Ivan Wears a Big Hat (На Иванушке чапан). The melodies of these songs were used in Tchaikovsky's collection of Fifty Russian Folk-Songs for piano duet.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 22–29
This page was last updated on 02 April 2013