Chemistry of The Maid of Pskov


The opera has a very complicated destiny: first steps of the young composer in opera genre brought him recognition, but made him feel dissatisfied. Rimsky-Korsakov made three versions of the opera, orchestrated it twice and wrote so much music that it was enough to write several independent compositions - Lev Mei’s drama The Maid of Pskov, The Verse of Alexis the Man of God for choir and orchestra and even a one-act opera Boyarina Vera Sheloga, which was later often used to be performed as a prologue to The Maid of Pskov.

Meanwhile, the premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre (1873) was quite successful. In particular, the audience was thrilled with the events reflected in the opera: ‘Young students loved the republican liberties of the Pskovians, they said, med students sang rogues song in the corridors of the Academy’ (Rimsky-Korsakov). However the version that has been performed since 1895 (the premiere of the final version took place at the Panayevsky Theatre in St. Petersburg) is quite different from the first one, perhaps not surprisingly, considering that it was presented to the public by an absolutely mature master.

Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera on the drama of the same name by Lev Mei, written in the 1840s. Lev Mei was one of the first writers to explore a specific event during Ivan the Terrible long reign. In 1570, the tsar destroyed the rebellious city of Novgorod and the sister city, Pskov.

Princess Olga (the main character), the Prince Tokmakov’s foster daughter, is an illegitimate child of the tsar Ivan the Terrible with the boyarina Vera Sheloga. Olga is betrothed to the old boyar Nikita Matuta, but she loves Mikhail Tucha, the leader of the uprising in Pskov. The scene changes to the main square in Pskov, where the citizens have assembled. The tsar Ivan has destroyed nearby Novgorod and now he's headed their way. Tokmakov urges the people to submit to Ivan and hope for mercy. Tucha disagrees. He assembles a band of rebellious militants, and they march off to defend the city. The subsequent meeting of Olga with the tsar and her sudden death in the final (perceived as sacrificial) give the city of Pskov tsar’s favor and a salvation from defeat.

At the same time, The Maid of Pskov had paved the way to the stage for ‘royal’ characters. First, the opera was censored due to the prohibition signed by Nicholas I, which ban representation of the country’s leaders in the performances. The naval Minister N. Krabbe summoned to help to abolish the decree, and succeeded in that. (His initiative is even more surprising, as it was not long before the minister categorically forbade the naval officer Rimsky-Korsakov to conduct his compositions at concerts). The lifting of the ban was also important as it enriched the Russian opera theatre with an outstanding interpretation of the tsar's role.

In 1896, Fyodor Shalyapin debuted in the role of Ivan the Terrible at the Russian Private Opera. Due to Shalyapin The Maid of Pskov was noticed by the Direction of Imperial Theatres. First it was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre (November 10, 1901), with Shalyapin as Ivan the Terrible, and then at the Mariinsky Theatre (in 1903). In 1909, The Maid of Pskov was introduced to the European audience by Sergei Diaghilev.

The Maid of Pskov makes regular appearances in the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theatre, it was usually staged as a large-scale performance with Boyarina Vera Sheloga as a prologue. Outstanding directors, conductors and artists - L. Baratov, I. Tumanov, I. Altani, M. Zhukov, S. Sakharov, U. Simonov, A. Golovin, K. Korovin, V. Fedorovsky, V. Ryndin and many others – took part in the productions of 1901, 1932, 1945, 1953, 1971. The Maid of Pskov became the conductor's debut of Evgeny Svetlanov (1955) and his last production at the Bolshoi Theatre (1999).

In 2010, on the 500th anniversary of Pskov's accession to the Grand Principality of Moscow, the Bolshoi Theatre showed a stage performance of the opera in the historic scenery of the Pskov Kremlin. The opera in concert performance will be presented on October 13 and 15 with the participation of the leading soloists of the Bolshoi Theatre. The role of Ivan the Terrible will sing polish bass Rafał Siwek, who is well acquainted with the Russian repertoire and recently appeared at the Bolshoi as Prince of Galich in the opera Prince Igor.