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Henry Zajaczkowski

I am reading a library copy of Zajaczkowksi’s new book on Tchaikovsky’s operas and finding it interesting and valuable. Despite the price ($95), I will simply have to buy a copy for myself. The author does surprise me with his high praise for The Maid of Orleans and The Sorceress. I am very fond of both these works but have to reluctantly admit that they are both seriously flawed.

If you have the opportunity, take a look at the November issue of Strings (magazine) which has an eloquent interview with David Ying of the Ying Quartet on the 3 Tchaikovsky quartets, which the quartet has recently recorded for Telarc. Their performances, by the way, are among the best I have ever heard.

Don Seibert

Concerning the Zajaczkowski book on Tchaikovsky's oprea can you publish the ISBN number and the publisher?

Thanks for your information

Steve Floyd

The full title is An Introduction to Tchaikovsky's Operas published by Praeger Press in 2005 (ISBN 0275979490 or 9780275979492). Here is a link to the book's page on

Brett Langston

Dear Mr. Seibert,

indeed there are some aspects in both operas, which are not typical for Tchaikovsky’s procedural method and philosophy for composition of an opera. In general Tchaikovsky preferred in his adult operas very personal and individual psychological conflicts between two antagonists, which are lovers. He followed this basic principle from “Eugen Onegin” until “Yolantha”. He developed this concept stepwise in his three operas after Pushkin. The two operas you mentioned are more complex exceptions and these opera projects were difficult challenges for Tchaikovsky.

1. The Maid of Orleans: This opera was designed as a “grand opera”. But just a few years ago before, in the context of “Eugen Onegin” he justified the style of “Eugen Onegin” and wrote in his letters, that he cannot understand feelings of an egyptian princess, of crazy murderers, national uprisings, of tsars, battles, mass scenes etc. Therefore he considered conflicts only which he also could understand as sujets in his operas. Despite Tchaikovsky’s own philosophy he started with “The Maid”, his first non-russian subject to make a “grand opera” and to get more notice outside of Russia. Therefore some of the “big tunes” in the “Maid of Orleans” have no deeper, inner relationship to the inner world of the Maid. Later – in “Pique Dame” – Tchaikowsky was more successful by using a musical collage technique, projection of the inner world to outside (esp. storm in the first act) sequences of contrasts. Furthermore there are two antagonists – Lionel and the Lord. Like in the “Manfred-Symphony”, the central character of the work adept forgiving at the end. Similar to “Francesca da Rimini” Tchaikowsky was able to compose a effective horror for the end in the fire. But he did’nt. The focus on the inner development and the finally forgiving doesn’t fit a grand opera. The “big tunes” can be regarded as decoration with few integration.

Nevertheless “The Maid of Orleans” contains wonderful musical material and was composed with the typical scruples and seriousness of Tchaikovsky.

2. The Sorceress: the story of the Enchantress is rather more complex – perhaps too complex for an opera and a overburden for a romantic opera. There are four characters. And these characters additionally are heavily changing during the activities of the opera. The final act is too rough “opera-like” with poisoning, storm etc. For the understanding of this opera you have to respect to a rather unknown story about the composition process: Before finalising the whole opera Tchaikovsky completed the piano reduction and sent it to the Mariinsky theatre for preparation the event. Normally he modified and shortened his works before publishing. In the case of “The Enchantress” it was too late to make this very important step of a big composition. So he had no chance for the last evaluation. “The Enchantress” is furthermore characterised by a very unusual instrumentation. There are a lot of very strange, creative and interesting colours and effects in the music. During the four acts, there are no “high lights” and catchy tunes. The music – always astonishing of a brilliant invention – seems to be something like “uniformly”. “The Enchantress can be regarded of an transition opera in the work of Tchaikovsky.

Nevertheless both operas should not be so terribly neglected on the stage– even in Russia. For all fans of Tchaikovsky—and also others—they are really enrichments.

Rüdiger Herpich

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013