Varvara Vasilievna: Yekaterina Sergeyeva
Volodya Gavrilov: Alexander Trofimov
Fedot Petrovich: Pavel Shmulevich
Natasha: Natalya Pavlova
World premiere: 25 December 1961, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre and premiere of this production: 1 March 2017
Running time 2 hours 20 minutes
The performance has one interval
Music by Rodion Shchedrin
Libretto by Vasily Katanian after stories by Sergei Antonov
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Alexander Kuzin
Set Designer: Alexander Orlov
Costume Designer: Irina Cherednikova
Lighting Designer: Alexander Sivaev
Musical Preparation: Larisa Gergieva
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov
Ballet Master: Gali Abaidulov
The action takes place in a Soviet village after the war.
Peasants on the collective farm are sitting around idly; it is raining and it is impossible to continue work in the fields. Volodya Gavrilov, Natasha’s fiancé, returns home to the village. He has studied and worked in the city. The lads in the village give him a cool reception. The subsequent fight is stopped by the chair of the collective farm Varvara Vasilievna. All take their separate ways. Varvara is overcome with doubt: she is strict with those she manages, but she cannot control the weather on which the harvest depends. Speaking with Volodya, she tries to discover his plans as there is insufficient manpower in the village.
The young people assemble for an evening of festivities. The girls and the boys, competing against each other, sing limericks. Representatives of the collective farm’s initiative group appear, performing an awkward march after which Gavrilov speaks. The gloomy moralists from the initiative group scorn everything that is urban, and amid the accusations is the retort “Muddle instead of music!” Volodya sings lyrical couplets with the girls. Varvara has come for the quadrille which she dances with Volodya to whom she has taken a fancy. After the festivities, Varvara anxiously returns home, followed by Volodya who does not hide his feelings (“I’ll smother you with kisses, you lie, you won’t get away.”) The dialogue is interrupted by the brigadier of the tractor-drivers Fedot Petrovich. Varvara drives her protector away and she and Volodya agree to meet.
On the way to her rendezvous, Varvara bumps into Natasha who sings the nostalgic song The Hazily Beautiful Sun. The chair gives her usual commands, giving her rival her marching orders. But as she awaits Volodya she begins to doubt her own actions. She hears the words of a limerick which one of the village girls sings: “Oh, how quiet is the night, not far from sin. Let me be escorted by another’s fiancé.” Varvara is like a fish out of water: she dreams of happiness, yet she cannot abuse people’s trust. Keeping her anxiety in check, the chair announces her instructions and tells Volodya his duties and slowly she comes to understand that the lad never had any serious intentions. Before her lies another day of cares and hard work.
The plot of the opera was taken from the tale Aunt Lusha by contemporary Russian writer Sergei Antonov. The tale narrates the life of a commonplace Russian village soon after the end of World War II. The men have been killed at the front and only young men – boys, really – remain in the village; in my youth I saw such villages with my own eyes. The heroine of the opera, the now not-so-young Varvara (the author of the libretto Vasily Katanian and I changed her name), falls desperately in love with just such a young man who is still half a boy. The loving languor, sexual desire, the unspent maternal tenderness, secret meetings, the village love triangle (the boy has a fiancée the same age in the village), the stormy conflict and the dark and gloomy denouement is a sad finale. The village is again immersed into day-to-day tedium. The text of one of the limericks literally sums up the main idea of my opera: “Oh, mother, my mother, what should I do with my love? Scatter it in the field or bury it in the earth?” <…>
The premiere of my opera Not Love Alone took place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 25 December 1961. The production resulted in severe irritation from the bosses in charge of culture – the openly Freudian motifs together with the monumental patriotic processions of other Soviet operas, red banners and glorification proved to be too much of a challenging contrast. The planned next four performances were replaced with Verdi’s La traviata, and it was only two months later that the opera was shown to the public another three times after which it quietly and ingloriously vanished from the repertoire. Rodion Shchedrin
Shchedrin’s very first opera Not Love Alone (1961) was his last to be staged at the Mariinsky Theatre. It was a somewhat unexpected production. The risky plot about a Soviet village in the 1950s, where kolkhozniki (collective farmers) discuss the sowing, play the goat, go to parties and observe the mental drama faced by the collective farm’s chairwoman who unexpectedly falls in love with the young urban chap has been treated by stage director Alexander Kuzin with psychological veracity, refining the look, speech and gestures of the fifty-or-so young singers of the Academy, and his tremendous experience in drama theatre may also be observed. And yet the vivid, unusually coloured costumes by Irina Cherednikova underscore the fact that this is not village prose, not Brothers and Sisters, but rather an opera by the young Shchedrin where the libretto essentially consists of ditties. Their irony, glibness and passion set the tone for the work. The passions of a grand opera, the heroine of which appears in the form of Varvara Vasilievna and the musical heir to the schismatics Marfa and Katerina Ismailova come together with operetta, the language of which is spoken by her counterpart – the vaudeville dandy Volodya. In one act there is the concerto-skit of the homespun village ensemble in dances, and in the other there is the furious monologue of the heroine about her hopes and the impossibility of happiness where Varvara, like the tormenting Furies, stings the unseen chorus, repeating “No, no, no!” In the choral epilogue there is a photo for eternity, the entire village standing as if for a school photo, the chairwoman in the centre. This composition with an “under the tongue” ditty says more about Shchedrin’s contemporaries than any research into gender problems of a post-war village. Anna Petrova
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