Vaskov: Andrei Serov
Rita Osyanina: Nadezhda Serdyuk
Zhenka Komelkova: Yekaterina Sergeyeva
Liza Brichkina: Yekaterina Latysheva
Sonia Gurvich: Margarita Ivanova
Running time: 1 hours 50 minutes
The concert has no interval
Music by Kirill Molchanov
Libretto by Kirill Molchanov after the eponymous tale by Boris Vasiliev
Musical Preparation: Zarina Dzhatieva
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov
Setting – Karelia
Time – 1942 and the present day
There are some tourists at a pier on Lake Legontovo. One of them is singing “Again night passes over the dark fields.” A veteran soldier appears, followed by four girls dressed in forage-caps and overcoats in the style of 1942. One of them calls on the rest to remember the war: “May the living recall and may generations know the bleak truth of this battle won by soldiers.”
A hut which is home to women anti-aircraft gunners. There is a comfortable, non-army atmosphere and the girls are singing “In the skies the sun’s rays have brightened.” Lyuda Yolkina jokingly tells her friends of a date she has been on. Vaskov appears; he tries to be stern with his staff and reminds them of regulations. “You remember? The female sex...” they reply to him. The commandant leaves, waving his arm at them.
The girls joke and gossip until a squabble erupts. Sonya, trying to calm the arguing women, reads a poem – Blok’s My Darling, My Prince, My Bridegroom. Subsequently the action unfolds in parallel in the girls’ room and Vaskov’s hut.
Marya and the commandant speak of a woman’s duty during war. Polina brings the girls a gramophone. Hearing the music, the commandant resolves to put a stop to his staff’s amusement and sets off to the girls’ quarters.
Zhenka sings a romance to the famous poem by Simonov Wait for Me. The girls are dancing to the gramophone. Vaskov appears and the girls are embarrassed. Liza, who is in love with the sergeant-major, attempts to offer some hospitality, but Rita demonstratively insists it is late: “Regulations!” All depart.
Zhenka meets Rita in secret and takes her into town for a date at night.
The sergeant-major is distressed that he cannot find a common language with his staff. He tells Marya about his wife’s infidelity and the death of his child: “here I have forgotten how people can laugh.”
Rita runs in and says that Germans have been seen in the forest. Vaskov sounds the alarm. He naggingly inspects the troops who have risen at the alarm and selects three of them. Zhenka, Liza and Sonya are selected as scouts. The act ends as the girls are bidden farewell.
On the shore of Lake Legontovo, Vaskov, inspecting each observation point in turn, becomes closer to each of the girls. The confiding talks with the sergeant-major are interspersed with the heroines’ memories of home. Liza Brichkina performs a lyrical vocalise. Sonya Gurvich, an intelligent girl with volumes of Blok in her hands, reads Life Is without Beginning, without End against the background of Handel’s aria Dignare.
Suddenly Sonya notices the enemy approaching. Vaskov is beside himself – there are not two Germans, as they initially supposed, but sixteen. The sergeant-major orders that they take a defensive position. He sends Liza off for help. Bidding farewell to her friends, she rushes off to fulfil the order, but dies in the swamps.
Vaskov, Zhenka, Rita and Sonya are hidden in a shelter. The sergeant-major is convinced that Liza has already reached the village and sought help. Suddenly Sonya jumps up – she has decided to bring the flagging sergeant-major his tobacco-pouch. Everyone, listening in great tension, await her return. The anxious Vaskov goes in search and returns with the body of Sonya, which has been stabbed by the Germans.
He resolves to send Rita and Zhenya back and remain himself to deal with the saboteurs. The girls ignore the order and wage war to the death.
Today the name of Kirill Vladimirovich Molchanov says little to wider audiences – perhaps only to professional musicians, and even then only to the older generation. Yet it suffices to recall just two or three songs – Here Come the Soldiers, Crossing the Scorched Steppe..., No Hiding from People in the Village or So Many Unmarried Men, and I Love a Married Man – and you will immediately find yourself singing a familiar melody with a smile on your lips. Isn’t that the best reward for a composer, when his songs are part of people’s lives – sung both on the stage and around a table with friends or even at a campfire to the strains of a guitar?
Kirill Molchanov (1922–1982) composed eight operas (among them The Stone Flower after Pavel Bazhov and Romeo, Juliet and Darkness after Jan Otčenášek’s The Unknown Soldier...), the ballets Three Cards and Macbeth, pieces for piano, song cycles, music for some dozen films (including It Happened in Penkovo, On the Seven Winds and We’ll Live till Monday) and thirty drama productions... On Saratov’s pedestrianised “Arbat” there is even a memorial to his song, while the tower clock on the banks of the River Volga chimes out “So many golden lights // On the streets of Saratov...”
Boris Vasiliev’s strident tale The Dawns Here Are Quiet about the feats of female anti-aircraft gunners was to provide the plot for Molchanov’s final opera. A talented opera composer and dramatist (he wrote the librettos for most of his operas himself), Molchanov had a brilliant sense for the specific nature of musical theatre and yet, remaining true to the songful nature of his gift, he made wide use of continuous art form techniques. He strove to employ cinematographic “influxes”, to use scenes from his characters’ pasts that break up the linear narrative – scenes of remembrance and montage-based dramaturgy.
The musical language of the opera is just as unique, adorned with quotations – here we have “everyday” song, variety performance and music of the baroque. Like a symbol of peaceful life, in the crystalline timbre of the glockenspiel we can hear Dunaevsky’s Cradle Song and, in the same episode, a chorale by Handel.
The composer “paints a portrait” of the opera’s heroines, in conformity with their characters and using musical “lexis” that is close to them. For example, the peasant girl Liza Brichkina is depicted through an extensive song and folk ditty, while Sonya Gurvich, in love with Blok’s poetry, is drawn with intonations of the Russian romance and Handel’s melodies. Zhenya Komelkova initially appears in a simple waltz, almost as if it had been lifted from some town dance hall; with a guitar in her hands, before the eyes of the audience she “makes up” a simple song in couplet form to the now legendary verse by Konstantin Simonov Wait for Me – a generalised image of the loyalty of a woman protecting a soldier. Rita Osyanina, recalling with pain the young son she has left at home, sings Dunaevsky’s touching Cradle Song from The Circus...
Initially, the girls react towards their commander the sergeant-major Vaskov with a great deal of irony. He is characterised by a march to words attributed almost to Alexander Vasilievich Orlov himself: “Oh warrior, living to serve! // Read the Service Regulations before you sleep. // And in the morning, rising up from sleep, // Read the Service Regulations more earnestly.” The elderly sergeant-major looks after the girls like a father, empathising with them and sharing tragic death with them... There is something of each of the girls in his intonations, though more than anything else they are close to folk sources with Russian roots. Thus in the scene with Liza Brichkina we suddenly hear notes of lyrical “sufferings”.
With sparse and niggardly means, the orchestra conveys the atmosphere of the plot and raises the emotional “temperature” of the opera. The “trumpet” leitmotif that opens the opera then springs to life in a slightly varied form in Rita Osyanina’s plea “Do not feel sorry for us!” to verse by the frontline poet Semyon Semyon Gudzenko. Supported by the strings and the solo trumpet, it sounds as if the author is speaking to us.
The prologue and epilogue that frame the opera in a contrasting light depict the peaceful days of the present – they have been won for us by those who gave their lives in battle against the enemy. The security of our own moral and spiritual health lie in this sense of the succession of one generation to the next and in the unfading memory of military victory. Iosif Raiskin
The highlighting of performances by age represents recommendations.
This highlighting is being used in accordance with Federal Law N436-FZ dated 29 December 2010 (edition dated 1 May 2019) "On the protection of children from information that may be harmful to their health"