St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre


opera by Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Performed in Russian (the performance will have synchronised English and Russian supertitles)


World premiere: 3 February 1884, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 6 February 1884
Premiere of this production: 22 February 1950, Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre (Mariinsky Theatre)
Last revival of the production: 15 May 2009

Running time: 3 hours 55 minutes
The performance has two intervals

Age category 12+


Music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Libretto by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Viktor Burenin based on the epic poem Poltava by Alexander Pushkin

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Ilya Shlepyanov (1950)
Set Designer: Alexander Konstantinovsky
Revival Director: Yuri Laptev
Lighting Designer: Damir Ismagilov
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Yegor Kartashov
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva


The action is set in the Ukraine in the early 18th century.

Act I
Scene 1
Kochubei’s house and garden.
The girls bring in Maria, Kochubei’s daughter, and take her off to have her fortune told. She refuses: her father has a guest, the hetman Mazepa whom she loves.
Her childhood friend, Andrei the Cossack, knowing of Maria’s secret passion, nevertheless declares his unrequited love for her and begs her to forget Mazepa. Maria, understanding the full recklessness of her feelings, is nonetheless powerless to resist them.
Kochubei enters the garden with his wife Lyubov, Mazepa and the other guests. Kochubei’s servants amuse Mazepa with singing and dancing. Mazepa asks Kochubei for Maria’s hand in marriage. Kochubei and Lyubov are incensed at the old hetman’s proposal – he is Maria’s godfather. The hetman turns to Maria and offers her a choice between him and her parents. After tortuous hesitation, she gives her hand to Mazepa. The hetman takes Maria away.

Scene 2
A room in Kochubei’s house.
Maria’s mother is lamenting her daughter, who has left her father’s home. She urges her husband to take revenge on Mazepa. Kochubei reveals his plan: he has found out about the links between the hetman and Sweden’s King Charles XII and of Mazepa’s proposed betrayal of Peter I, and he resolves to present the hetman to the Russian Emperor.
Andrei is ready to deliver the denunciation to the Emperor. Kochubei’s acquaintances are filled with hatred for the hetman Mazepa.

Act II
Scene 3
A cellar in Mazepa’s palace in Belotserkovsk.
The lying hetman, having been warned of his denunciation by Peter I’s retainers, has succeeded in slandering Kochubei to the Emperor. Bound in chains and having been tortured, both Iskra and Kochubei await interrogation.
Orlik, the hetman’s retainer enters. He demands that Kochubei give up the treasure he has allegedly buried in the village of Dikanka. Kochubei has nothing: his honour has been despoiled and his beloved daughter taken from him by Mazepa.
Kochubei desires one thing only – revenge.

Scene 4
A room in Mazepa’s palace.
The hetman is receiving in secret the ambassadors of the Swedish King. Orlik enters and receives the order to execute Kochubei.
Maria appears. In a talk with Mazepa, she upbraids him for his coldness towards her. Jealous suspicions torment her soul. Unwillingly, the hetman must state the true reason for his coldness, and he reveals the secret plan against the Russian Emperor. Mazepa wants to know whom Maria would choose: her father or her husband, if she was forced to make that choice? In disarray, she speaks of the boundless nature of her love, saying she does not understand the choice Mazepa is offering. Mazepa leaves. Having secretly gained access to the palace, Maria’s mother appears; she tells her daughter of the failed plot against Mazepa, and is stunned that her daughter does not know about the death that awaits her father. Maria and Lyubov hasten to stop the execution.

Scene 5
The road leading to Kochubei’s place of execution.
The people await the appearance of the sentenced men, while a drunken Cossack sings and dances in the crowd.
The executioner appears, followed by Mazepa and Orlik, then Kochubei and his friend Iskra are brought in. The sentenced men bid farewell to one another, to the people and to life and they mount the scaffold. Maria and Lyubov run in. But they are too late. Sentence has been carried out.

Scene 6
The Battle of Poltava – symphonic scene.

Scene 7
Kochubei’s former home and garden.
The height of the battle, and the Russian warriors are pursuing the Swedes; Andrei is among them. He stops by the roadside and recalls the past when he was happy. Mazepa and Orlik appear. The y have fled the battle at Poltava. Andrei, recognising Mazepa, attacks him with his sword, but Mazepa is too quick for Andrei and wounds him fatally.
Maria appears; she has lost her mind; she recognises nothing around her. Drowning in grief, the girl laments her murdered father.
Orlik and Mazepa hide. Not recognising the dying Andrei, Maria soothes him with a lullaby.

Pushkin wrote Poltava in two weeks, while it took Tchaikovsky two years to compose Mazepa. Writing a monumental military and historical opera based around Pushkin’s famous poem did not come easily to the lyrical composer. No wonder he began working with Maria and Mazepa’s expansive duet: he was perturbed first and foremost by the psychology rather than the politics. The duet features a soprano and a baritone – a rare case for the genre of opera, where the role of the female protagonist’s beloved is, as a general rule, given to a tenor. Here this is impossible: Maria is young and Mazepa is old. The story seems improbable, though it is historically accurate. The third corner of the love triangle is occupied by Andrei – a figure who with Pushkin is nameless and insignificant, although he is vital in the opera. And yet the fervour of the passions in Mazepa is connected primarily not with a romantic triangle arranged according to the principle “being in love – not being in love” but with the relationship between a young girl and her two fathers – her birth father and her godfather, who sacrilegiously becomes his god-daughter’s lover. In this second much more intense triangle the two older men have clashed for Maria’s soul, one of them loses and pays with his life, while the girl’s mind is touched – this gave Tchaikovsky the opportunity to end the opus with the heroine’s quiet mad scene, typical of romantic opera. The drama of love and treachery unfolds against a backdrop of a broad historic panorama with vivid Ukrainian national colour with which Tchaikovsky was well acquainted: the composer’s sister lived in Ukraine. On the stage there are often a great many people, the folk stroll around, dance, sing and pray. The victorious Battle of Poltava of 1709 is picturesquely depicted by Tchaikovsky in a dazzling symphonic entr’acte to Act III.

The historic scale peculiar to Mazepa is presented at the Mariinsky Theatre in all its grandeur. In 2019 the theatre commemorated a remarkable anniversary: Mazepa was performed for the five hundredth time. The current production is a full revival of the 1950 production. A recipient of the Stalin Prize, stage director Ilya Shlepyanov and the acclaimed Soviet theatre designer Alexander Konstantinovsky created a benchmark of the “grand style” that entirely corresponds with the music of this opera. Here the young maids are black-browed and the Cossacks wear harem pants; their attire is adorned with pearls and trimmed with sable. The powerful operatic empire of Mazepa delights admirers of traditional theatre in particular; although as an authentic and carefully restored historical monument of the mid-20th century, this is a production that is of interest to any audience. Mazepa is a long-lived production which at its venerable age has lost none of its charisma or its power, just like its titular hero. Khristina Batyushina

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