Opera Scotland

Christmas Eve Noch' pered Rozhdestvom

Music

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (born Tikhvin, 18 March 1844; died Lyubensk, 21 June 1908)

Text

The Composer

Source

Story (1831) by Nikolay Gogol (1809-1852)

 

Premières

First Performance: St Petersburg (Mariinsky Theatre), 10 December 1895.

First Performance in UK: London (Coliseum), 14 December 1988.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Playhouse Theatre), 25 August 1991.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Rimsky's Christmas Eve took as its source the same story by Gogol that Tchaikovsky had earlier used for his opera The Tsarina's Slippers (Cherevichki) which had been revised in 1887 from an earlier work of 1876 entitled Vakula the Smith (Kuznets Vakula). It is a comic folk tale based in a village in the Ukraine. Tchaikovsky's version was composed for a competition for which the tale was the compulsory subject matter. It won and was performed quite successfully. Rimsky-Korsakov was one of the panel of judges, which makes it seem even stranger that he should later have tried to compose a further version himself, soon after Tchaikovsky's  death. Attractive as much of Rimsky's treatment is, the earlier version seems to be accepted as having greater spontaneity and inspiration.

 

Main Characters

Solokha, a widow considered to be a witch (mezzo-soprano)

Vakula, her son, a blacksmith (tenor)

Chub, an elderly Cossack (bass)

Oxana, Chub's daughter (soprano)

The Devil (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The action takes place in the Ukrainian village of Dikan'ka; in the Tsarina's Palace in the capital; and in mid-air.

Solokha is being courted by several village worthies and by the devil. Vakula loves Oxana, and while she does love him, she conceals this and plays hard to get. She sets Vakula the near impossible task of travelling to St Petersburg to obtain a pair of the Tsarina's slippers.

The devil, mayor and priest, as well as Oxana's father, arrive in turn, hoping for an assignation with Solokha. Each is hidden in a sack when another one knocks. Vakula returns home to discover  a row of sacks, and, not knowing they contain his mother's guests, he drags each through to the smithy. The villagers, discovering the contents of three, subject their supposed village elders to a deal of ridicule. Meanwhile, Vakula has discovered that the last sack contains the devil. Vakula forces him to assist with a flight to St Petersburg, where the Tsarina duly gives him a pair of her slippers. On returning home with them, he discovers that Oxana has loved him all the time.

The Cast

Chub
 an elderly Cossack
Devil
 
Diak
 the Priest
First Woman
 with a violet nose
Golova
 the Mayor
Oksana
 Chub's daughter
Panas
 Chub's friend
Patsiuk
 an old Dnieper Cossack and Sorcerer
Second Woman
 with a normal nose
Solokha
 a widow rumoured to be a witch
Tsarina
 
Vakula
 the blacksmith, Solokha's son

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