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.
Concerning the Zajaczkowski book on Tchaikovsky's oprea can you publish
the ISBN number and the publisher?
Thanks for your information
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
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.