It's just come to my attention that BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting a rare
complete performance of Tchaikovsky's opera Cherevichki tonight
(Saturday 5 December) at 18.00 GMT. Listeners outside the UK should be
able to listen through the BBC Radio 3 website:
From the Royal Opera House newsletter:
The Tsarina's Slippers [Cherevichki]
will be broadcast on BBC2 at 2.15pm on Christmas Eve.
According to my information, the Royal Opera had staged "Cherevicki"
(The Shoes") in November 2009. If this is correct, I would love to know
how successful that production has been.
If any of you were lucky enough to be at the Covent Garden on this
performance, could you please share your impressions. Also if anyone had
come across reviews, reports, articles on this production, please send us
a link (s).
Royal Opera House performed 19 consecutive performances of
Tchaikovsky works Nov/Dec - Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker and
Tsarina’s Slippers (as they called it).
Three stars seems about right – some of the singing could have been
better, there was a general lack of charm, more in your face Disney – with
a chance for the audience to clap along to the reprieve at the end while
the performers took their curtain calls. The first part dragged a bit at
nearly 90 minutes, although the sack scene was well received. Overhearing
audience comments at the end of the evening the second part was more of a
hit - a lot of this was taken up with dancing by Royal Ballet members.
Hopefully the ROH will bring it back again in a couple of years as the
performances were sold out, and tighten up the production.
I was lucky enough to be at the UK premier of Cherevichki
at Morley College in London – must be over 25 years ago. This was a simple
production by an adult education college, performed with enthusiasm and
charm. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London performed the
work in 1999 which I also managed to catch and I found this brief review.
There was much to applaud in the Guildhall School of Music and
Drama's production of Tchaikovsky's Cherevichki,
or The Tsarina's Shoes, in Arthur Jacobs' English translation, a
four-act 1885 reworking and revision of the composer's 1874 Vakula the Smith.
Amongst the plaudits was the excellent production of Stephen Medcalf,
the School's Resident Producer, which was excellent in most respects. To
this should be added the choreography of Maxine Braham, with pupils of
the London Contemporary Dance School in magnificent form.
Thank you most kindly Julia for sharing so much of your knowledge on
the recent production of "Cherevichki"
by the ROH.
They probably gave a different title for commercial reasons - The
Tsarina’s Slippers probably sounding more familiar/attractive to the
audience than Cherevichki…
I prefer Cherevichki anyway.
And they probably took the idea of repeating the ending during the
applause from the Cagliari performance of 2000. They’ve also used this
recording for the trailer… great recording by the way!
Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to see the opera. I just
loved the scenery in the pictures! But I did listen to it thanks to Mr
Langston’s link to the BBC 3 radio. I think I liked the voices, if I
remember well... but one cannot judge a performance only listening of
course. Unfortunately they have cut some parts. For example the koliadki
of the chorus from Act II was horribly abridged (from six minutes to
probably one and a half). I was very disappointed since it’s a really
beautiful chorus. They’ve also cut the modulating introduction to the
Polonaise of Act III, a beautiful one minute crescendo that builds up to
the Polonaise... I think they should have played the ‘complete’ opera
since it is rarely performed, but anyway. In two years I sure will go and
Also, I don't remember where I read this, but they are going to release
a DVD of the performance at the end of the year.
Thanks for all the links!
Further to the replies to A. Geidelberg's inquiry I would like to give
my own reactions to the Royal Opera House production of Cherevichki,
or 'The Tsarina's Slippers', as the (notoriously
difficult-to-translate) title was rendered (quite advisedly as the opera's
plot was thereby put in a nutshell). I saw the performance on Dec 1st. It
was, to my mind, a meticulously well judged artistic response to the
life-enhancing musical richness and subtlety of Tchaikovsky's score. While
it is certainly true to say that the opera does not emphasise its comic
categorisation - there are only a few genuinely comic moments, and nothing
in the field of high comedy - something about this work makes one feel
heartened at a very deep level. The Gogol tale upon which it is based,
Christmas Eve from Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, seems as
high in the esteem of the Russians as is Dickens's A Christmas Carol
in that of the English. Its central point is that the symbolisation of
love is merely a spurious proof of it; the heroine's demand to her
would-be lover that he prove himself by bringing her the very
cherevichki worn by the Tsarina becomes, in due course, the heroine's
humiliation. Once Vakula has brought her what she requested she is too
chastened by the faux pas of her request to accept the footwear.
The triumph of this remarkable production was its focus upon the folk
aspect. The director, Francesca Zambello, is quoted in the accompanying
programme booklet as having aimed 'to keep a kind of naive folkloric
style, keep it in the scale of the Gogol short story with its mix of
fantasy and reality'. The set designs, by Mikhail Mokrov, and costumes, by
Tatiana Noginova, convey this aim with great sensitivity.
The opportunity to view the work televised (BBC 2, Christmas Eve) will
enable everyone to see the superb melding of Gogol and Tchaikovsky's
representation of the underlying sense of continuity in the folk ethos,
and how wonderfully this has been realised in this production.
Thanks to a kind assistance by Julia Curl, many of us, who had no
opportunity to be in the audience of Covent Garden, were able to read
online the reviews of this ROH production.
It appears that all three reviews were presented by professional music
critics. My experience with music critics, shared by many of my fellow
music lovers, has been, that when a theatrical production or a concert
performance attracts a genuine appreciation by the audience, they
(critics) invariably present it in an aspect, that is quite out of tune
with impressions gained by general public, the main entity of the entire
music writing/performing process.
I noticed that there is no agreement amongst those three critics on
which elements of the production deserve praises, and which need to be put
under a microscope of harsher criticism.
Thus Tim Ashley of "The Guardian" concentrates on criticizing Francesca
Zambello, the stage Director.
Edward Sackerson of "The Independent" finds the opera "unfunny" and
singing uneven. A voice projection however can often vary between singers,
engaged in the same production. In a recent production of "Turandot" at
the Metropolitan, Marina Poplavskaya (mezzo) was clearly overpowered by
Maria Gulegina, singing the title part.
Richard Morrison of "The Times" on the other hand liked the staging,
design, costumes and the vocal performance. He was however unkind to
Tchaikovsky, calling the opera " ... a laugh of an undertaker ... "
It was refreshing therefore to read the posting by Henry Zajaczkovski,
who presented his view of the production as an authentic and highly
artistic work of a group of talented professional performers.
Now I look forward to the release of a DVD recording of this
production. So far I have a bad quality DVD of the 2000 Cagliary
production. I find it as been a very good work from the musical and
artistic point of view. But the decision to cut one character, that of the
Empress had spoiled completely the whole zest of the Gigol's plot,
thus making the finale much weaker that it was designed by Tchaikovsky.
At long last I have been able to see and listen to a recording of this
production. And my impressions are not much different from those by Bryan
Chahla and Henry Zajaczkowski.
Mr. Chahla was right. The producers made a number of cuts, that in my
view affect quite significantly the overall perception of this
Tchaikovsky's work. As I mentioned in my early posting, the most
significant cut in the 2000 Cagliari production was that of the character
of the Empress. This goes quite against the Gogol's portrayal of a direct
dialogue between Vakula and the Empress.
The ROH production has the same negative feature. On top of that cut,
the dialogue Vakula - Cossacs at the beginning of the Palace scene has
"vanished" as well.
Considering that "Cherevichki" ("The Shoes") is a comic opera, where
every word is important, no wonder that some observers lament a lack of
comic content in this particular production.
Despite however all these comments, I watched the opera with a great
pleasure and can recommend it to all of you.
The Royal Opera House advertises now
a DVD recording of this production (see a link below)
The price tag is £24.99.
Shame about the cuts. For some reason these focused on some of the best
music in the opera. E.g the orchestral transition after the storm.
What were they thinking? Also in the broadcast we only got the last few
bars of the overture. Is this the case with the DVD?
Well...I bought an older DVD from Italy, the version of the CD with
Rozhdestvensky. It is an unofficial version, see Premiere opera. The
quality is not the best. No subtitles either.
I have the two DVDs....well...I have three different, the frist was on
VHS I transferred to DVD....uncomplet...
My own feeling about this opera is that it is too ethnic to have a
broad appeal to audiences outside Russia....it sounds to me like a
collection of Little Russian folk songs...I have the old Ultraphone LP
recording with Melik-Pashaev conducting the Bolshoi Opera which I bought
over thirty years ago...while it may register with Russian audiences it
simply doesn't have the universality say of his ballets....and in general
Tchaikovsky's operas to me are lacking in drama unlike so much of his best
The dvd of this production does include the complete overture. The idea
of clapping to the reprise of the ‘big’ tune at the end does not originate
in the Cagliari production but in that of the Wexford Festival in 1993
which was produced by Francesca Zambello. Two of the Covent Garden singers
were in that Wexford production which I saw – and it was brilliant. The
audience was quite overwhelmed by the opera – and in those days there were
I have a reasonable dvd of the Cagliari production which I think is
much better than the Covent Garden one. It is superbly staged and the
singing is excellent.
Regarding cuts. The small cuts at Covent Garden are unfortunate and are
not made in Cagliari. However A.Geidelberg is wrong about a scene with the
Empress being cut. There is no scene with the Empress. She might very well
appear in Gogol’s story but the very idea of her appearing on the stage in
Tsarist times is absurd and would never have got past the censor. The
whole idea of the character His Excellency is to get over this problem. It
is not absolutely convincing but Tchaikovsky had no option. However, all
three productions referred to overcome this problem in rather ingenious
ways. At Wexford there was a silhouetted outline of the Empress on the
backdrop; at Covent Garden this became a huge golden effigy which
dominated the stage (I’ve forgotten what happened at Cagliari but remember
thinking it was rather good). Hopefully the Cagliari performance will
eventually by officially issued on dvd (this production was also seen at
La Scala a year later).
According to the recent posting by J. Brand, I was wrong when I claimed
that both Cagliari and Covent Garden productions missed out on one
character - that of the Empress. I must admit I was surprised to learn
that. I based my claim on what I believed to be an authentic source, and I
will mention it at the end of this posting.
The cut in question relates to the No.21 (Minuette) in the Act 3. Two
vocal dialogues take place there. The first one is between His Grace and
Vakula, where Vakula is presented with a pair of fine shoes. The second
dialogue is between His Grace and Cossacs, where he asks the Cossacs to
confirm that nobody gets married in their land (Transrapids in the upper
reaches of Dnieper).
I decided to dig deeper and try to find out whether my source of
information is that inaccurate. First, I checked the Gogol's short story.
And indeed in Gogol's story both dialogues are lead by the Empress.. Then
on the IMSLP website I found a photocopy of the vocal score
According to the title page, this score was published by Jurgenson in
Moscow in 1901. The cast page makes no mention of the Empress. In the Act
3, the Minuette scene is in the 240 -245 bracket. The two vocal dialogues
mentioned above are lead by His Grace.
So J. Brand was right, and I am very grateful to him for pointing out
at my erroneous comments regarding the cut.
Thus both creators of the opera Polonski and Tchaikovsky decided to
divert this part in the libretto from the original storyline by Gogol. It
is a common practice to introduce a number of significant changes, when a
literary work is adopted for a theatrical presentation. The libretto of
"The Queen of Spades" has very little in common with the original short
story by A. Pushkin.
J. Brand suggests that considerations of censorship influenced Y.
Polonski not to portray royals on the stage. This suggestion appears to be
plausible. It can not however be accepted without further study.
Many of 19 century Russian operas by Glinka, Mussorgski, Verstovski,
Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov feature members of royal families amongst their
characters. In "The Queen of Spades" Tchaikovsky himself did not hesitate
to put the same Empress on the stage in the Act 2. So far the reason(s)
behind this diversion from the Gogol's story remains an open-ended
One of realistic attempts to make some progress in this particular
area, would be to send an e-mail to Galina Belonovich, the Director of the
House-Museum. In my experience she is very obliging and happy to share her
vast knowledge on the subject of her study.
The absence of the Empress from the cast, complicates the task of
producers and stage directors. This is because the Gogol's storyline is so
finely tuned that any change puts it off-balance to the detriment of
perception by spectators. And the scene were Vakula gets the shoes
straight from the Empress is a pivotal in the story. J. Brand mentioned
lighting design, effigy and other ruses akin to doll theaters in Wexford,
Cagliari and Covent Garden productions. All these attempts make a little
impact on the understanding of the action.
This problem was resolved virtually effortlessly when in 1948 Bolshoi
Theatre in Moscow staged this opera, conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashaev.
He simply reverted to the Gogol's storyline, introduced a new character
that of the Empress and transposed the vocal part in No.21 from
bass-baritone to mezzo-soprano.
In a CD album made by Aquarius [ AQR176A&B-2 ] the part of the Empress
is superbly sang by O. Insarova. My first introduction to the opera was
through this CD recording. I hope you readers can excuse me for believing
that this 1948 production represents an uncut version of the Tchaikovsky
I still maintain that this production by Melik-Pashaev is an example to
Thank you Mr.Geidelberg for your interesting response to my
contribution. I’d certainly like to get hold of the Aquarius recording you
mention. It is also worth looking up the relevent passages referring to
this opera in David Brown’s excellent (even if somewhat opinionated) huge
volume on Tchaikovsky. He is pretty good on the factual side and gives
detailed accounts of plot and music.
Regarding the Empress appearing in The Queen of Spades. Again I don’t
think this is right for the same censorship reasons as before. If the
ballroom scene in act two is staged correctly (as it rarely is) the
curtain should fall at the moment the Empress would appear – a brilliant
example of Tchaikovsky’s dramatic sense. When I first saw this opera at
Covent Garden in 1956 conducted by Kubelik this is exactly what happened
and it is absolutely thrilling. The dvd of the Glyndebourne production
suggests something similar. Modern directors are reluctant to raise the
curtain or let the curtain close at the point requested by a composer.
In the last two contributions Joseph Brand and myself tried to get some
sense out of the fact that the libretto/score of “Cherevichki” differs at
the 211-212 bracket so dramatically from the Gogl’s story. Specifically
what was the reason to leave the Empress out of the score. This character
is essential to the original storyline.
J. Brand suggested that censorship considerations prevailed when the
librettist and composer prepared its final version. I accepted
readily this suggestion. Some doubts however still remained. I have made
an enquiry on this subject to the Director of the House-Museum.
Regrettably however she did not respond. And I was quite inclined not to
pursue this issue any longer.
Quite recently however, I come across another source of reference, that
throws a somewhat different light on the actual restrictions that censors
at the time could potentially impose on the contents of the libretto.
I was listening to an audio recording of a broadcast by Radio Orpheus.
This station is dedicated to educational broadcasting on the subject of
classical music. One of their 33 programs called “Ball” presented recently
a history of composition of the opera “The Christmas Night” by N.
Rimsky-Korsakov. According to a superb presentation by the host Irena
Klenskaya, the libretto is based on exactly the same story by N. Gogol,
that been used earlier for “Cherevichki” . The composer nurtured for many
years plans to write his own opera on this subject. However out of respect
for Tchaikovsky he did not attempt to do that.
In a couple of years following the Tchaikovsky departure,
Rimsky-Korsakov decided that the time was right, and his opera should
become a reality. He disliked the Polonsky’s libretto, and a brand new
libretto was adopted for his opera . He insisted that his opera is “The
Christmas Night” and has very little in common with “Vakula” or
“Cherevichki”. Indeed while “Cherevichki” is essentially a love story,
“The Christmas Night” libretto is full of witchcraft and supernatural
tricks. That was quite consistent with Rimsky-Korsakov’s keen interest in
things supernatural, so vividly depicted in his “Mlada’, “The Golden
Cockrell”, “Invisible City Of Kitezh and Phevronia” and especially in “The
May Night” based again of a Gogol’s story.
The whole project progressed quite well, and soon final dress
rehearsals were conducted. In the scene under our consideration,
Rimsky-Korsakov decided not to divert from the original storyline and
retained the character of the Empress. A member of the Royal family was
present at the rehearsal and objected to the scene where the Empress talks
to a peasant (Vakula). The composer was absolutely furious and left a
message in his diary: “Since when His Grace is in charge of Her Majesty’s
wardrobe ? ".
Based on this episode, my tentative feeling being that if a theatrical
production featured royals, their actions, rather than the appearance
itself were actually scrutinised by censors .
The following is a link to that audio recording by Radio Orpheus. To
open up this audio file, I had to download Google Chrome.
When you get the page, scroll to the bottom until you see the progress
bar and click on the
Thank you Mr.Geidelberg for your research. As you’ve discovered only in
the Rimsky does the Empress appear. Rimsky’s version of Christmas Eve
dates from after Tchaikovsky’s death about 20 years after the original
Vakula the Smith when censorship was much stricter. Tchaikovsky eventually
had close ties with members of the imperial family whereas Rimsky was
always an outsider. David Brown’s four volume life and works of
Tchaikovsky discusses in some detail the structure of Cherevicki and the
original Vakula the Smith.
Rimsky’s opera is delightful in a different way to Tchaikovsky’s and
they actually complement one another. English National Opera did a
splendidly lavish production of the Rimsky in the 1980s with Cheryl
Barker, Ann Marie Owens and Richard Margison cond.Mark Elder and it was
superb. It had been intended later to use the same scenery and costumes
for Tchaikovsky’s version in the original (Vakula) but the critics were
lukewarm so this never happened and the production was destroyed. The
critics were largely lukewarm about the Covent Garden Cherevicki so that
will probably not be revived.
I have a splendid cd recording of Rimsky’s Christmas Eve on a label
called Lyrica. It was recorded in 1947 in Moscow conducted by Golovanov ,
in excellent sound for the time and superbly sung. Brilliant Classics has
just released in the UK the Cagliari Cherevicki at a ridiculously low
price in superb sound. It is a very fine performance and absolutely
complete! Brilliant Classics has just announced at the same low price the
Cagliari Opritchnik. I’ve been in touch with the original distributor of
these performances, Dynamic, who told me that though Cherevicki was
televised Rozhdestvensky would not sanction a DVD of it and Opritchnik was
Finally regarding appearances on stage of members of the imperial
family. I think I’m right in saying only pre-Romanovs could be depicted,
e.g. Boris Godunov. In Khovanschina Peter the Great and other members are
mentioned but they do not appear. Same in Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa and
Glinka’s Life for the Tsar.
It is exciting to note that Tchaikovsky’s Enchantress has just been
done in Antwerp and Ghent (which I saw) and repeated in Erfurt. It is
currently in repertory at the Bolshoi in Moscow in what looks from the
photos a fine traditional production. the Enchantress is also to be
produced in the 2013/14 season at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.
Things are certainly looking up for this wonderful opera.
As with anything involving Russian bureaucracy, whether in tsarist or
post-tsarist times, censorship was often unpredictably handled, sometimes
Gerald Abraham gives this description of Tsar Nikolay I's edict of
1837: 'pre-Romanov Russian rulers might be represented on the stage in
drama or tragedy but not in opera [Abraham's italics], since it
would never do for a tsar to be shown doing anything so undignified as
singing.' And indeed, the role of Ivan the Terrible (a pre-Romanov Tsar)
was removed by the censor from Tchaikovsky's opera The Oprichnik,
but the same monarch does appear in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Maid of Pskov
as the result of the composer's going down what Abraham amusingly calls '
a typically Russian avenue. He turned to his new friend, the Minister of
Marine. Krabbe was as good as his word; the machinery of Court favouritism
began to work, and the interest of the Grand Duke Constantine Nikolaevich,
the Tsar's [i.e. Alexander II's] brother, was enlisted on behalf of the
new opera.' (Gerald Abraham, Rimsky-Korsakov: A Short Biography
(London, 1945), p.47)
As concerns the Romanov period of rulers, Catherine the Great (the
German wife of Peter III who ascended the throne after the coup that
disposed of him) does not appear in Tchaikovsky's Vakula the Smith
(or the revised version,Cherevichki). As the librettist, Polonsky,
had been commissioned by a member of the royal family, the Grand Duchess
Elena Pavlovna, to write the libretto in the first place, it would of
course in any case have been tactless of him to include the empress in the
list of characters, and her function is carried out by an anonymous royal
personage. Rimsky-Korsakov devised his own libretto for Christmas Eve
(based on the same Gogol story used by Polonsky), and included a part for
Catherine II. However, as Abraham relates, in rehearsal the opera was seen
by 'the Grand Dukes Vladimir Alexandrovich and Michael Nikolaevich. The
two princes were outraged almost beyond words at finding [Catherine the
Great] portrayed upon the stage...at the interval [the Grand Duke
Vladimir] hastened behind the scenes and, sarcastically addressing the
singer who had taken the part, said, "You are now my great-grandmother, I
perceive"'. Abraham adds, 'The Tsar [Nikolay II, the last of the Romanov,
or indeed any, tsars] forthwith withdrew his permission for the production
in that form and Vsevolozhsky, the Director, in despair, saved the
situation by "translating" the mezzo-soprano "Tsaritsa" ...into a baritone
"Serene Highness", thereby reducing the central incident of the plot to
absurdity'.(Pages 101-2 of the biography)
The premiere of Christmas Eve (in 1895) therefore laboured under
the disadvantage of the omission of Catherine the Great from the dramatis
personae, though of course modern productions reinstate her.
On a different matter, Mr. Brand says of ongoing productions of
Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress, 'Things are certainly looking up for
this wonderful opera.' One can only hope that, with the necessary
momentum, it may indeed become established as a repertory item. On the
execrable and stereotyped response of the British press to the Francesca
Zambello production of 'The Tsarina's Slippers' (Cherevichki), it
may be refreshing to compare it with these comments by Tim Ashley.
Reviewing the concert performance conducted by Valery Gergiev at The Royal
Festival Hall fourteen years ago, he wrote: 'the opera [is] back on the
map [and he mentions its] astonishing emotional and dramatic range.' (The
Guardian newspaper, 2 Feb. 1998, p.2)
A brief addition to my comments from yesterday, as I see a possible
ambiguity on re-reading the last paragraph. Tim Ashley was of course
reviewing Gergiev's performance of The Enchantress (the reference
was not to any performance of Cherevichki, though it would be great
to think that that work too could receive such a positive review, as it
certainly is a remarkable enough opera).
I would like to offer my thanks to Mr. H. Zajaczkowski for his clear
and elaborate contribution to this discussion.
Whatever help my posting has been in this complex subject I am glad to
have given and I appreciate Mr. Geidelberg's kind reply.