Towards the end of an earlier Forum discussion “Tchaikovsky and Mahler”
Antonio Garganese quoted some interesting remarks by Tchaikovsky on
Verdi’s Otello. I would like to comment further on some of the
issues raised there. What Tchaikovsky attended at the Stadttheater in
Lübeck on 31 December 1887/12 January 1888 was a performance not of
Verdi’s opera but of the play by Shakespeare, with the famous German actor
Ludwig Barnay (1842–1924) in the title role. It is this which he described
in his diary (as quoted in that Forum discussion), as well as in a letter
to his brother Modest on 1/13 January 1888: “Last night I went to the
theatre for Othello. Barnay came for one performance and was good –
at some points absolutely wonderful. But what a torturing play. Iago is
more than disgusting – there cannot really be such people. The sets are
bad. Desdemona not quite hopeless; Iago awful; Rodrigo wonderfully
sympathetic; Cassio really funny” (quoted from Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky,
Letters to his Family. An Autobiography, transl. Galina von Meck,
London 1981, p. 385). I don’t have access to the book on Tchaikovsky by
Ferruccio Tammaro cited by Signor Garganese, so I can’t check how this
misunderstanding may have arisen.
Having studied the score of Otello in June 1887 (as we know from
the diary entry cited in that Forum discussion), Tchaikovsky first heard
Verdi’s opera on the stage at the National Theatre in Prague on 31
January/12 February 1888. In her book on Dvořák (whom Tchaikovsky met for
the first time during the interval) Valeriia Egorova writes: “That same
evening Tchaikovsky attended a performance of Verdi’s Otello, which
he hadn’t heard before. The production featured young singers who were
memorable not only by virtue of their fine voices but also because of
their splendid acting (Otello was sung by Vladislav Florjansky; Desdemona
by Berta Foerstrová-Lautererová; Iago by Bohumil Benoni). Tchaikovsky
liked it very much, and it seems to have played a decisive role in his
decision to agree to a staging of Evgenii Onegin in Prague.” (V. N.
Egorova, Antonin Dvoržak, Moscow 1997, p. 249). (At the Czech
première of Onegin, conducted by Tchaikovsky himself on 24
November/6 December 1888, Benoni would sing the title role,
Foerstrová-Lautererová was Tat’iana, and Florjansky was Lenskii. At the
Czech première of The Queen of Spades, conducted by Adolf Čech in
the composer’s presence on 30 September/12 October 1892, Florjansky and
Benoni would sing, respectively, Herman and Prince Eletskii).
Dear Mr. Robinson,
Thank you for your clarification. I misunderstood reading the Diary of
a musician. It was Shakespeare's Othello, not the opera by Verdi.
However, even the musicologist Ferruccio Tammaro in his book, he made this
mistake. The text speaks Verdi's Otello, but the linked note refers
to the letter that I mentioned.
Unfortunately it happens ...
I still want to point out again, that I mentioned in my first post. The
musicologist Ferruccio Tammaro refers (he writes in note) to the German
translation of the 1903 biography of Modest Tchaikovsky ("Das Leben ..."),
in the second book, p. 449-50.
I do not have the opportunity to check this text: I know that there is
a current American edition: The Life And Letters of Peter Ilich
Tchaikovsky, University Press of The Pacific, 2004
Mr. Robinson refers, however, the book edited by Galina von Meck, and I
am sure of your quote (I do not know directly that text).
Thank you again.
Finally, and I apologize for these posts in sequence, I just tracked
down on the Internet the entire 2004 edition of the biography of Modest.
On page 544 agrees with what Mr. Robinson says, and then, being of the
same book in 1903, I have argued that the text of the musicologist
Ferruccio Tammaro, has been made a mistake. It goes without saying that
the number of pages in the various editions is different.