Mazeppa. First, concert performance


Opera is based on Pushkin’s poem Poltava where personal drama is intertwined with critical events of Peter the Great period. The story reaches culmination on narrative about Poltava battle and it provides rich material. The fact is that Tchaikovsky is alien to a ‘grand style’ – thus it is needless to expect such a style of Peter I and Charles XII parts in Mazeppa. What attract composer primarily are characters feelings, emergence and the dynamics of the conflict.

Moral aspect of Mazeppa was essential for Pushkin – ‘insidious evil’ he called him: betrayal of Peter I and revenge to Kochubei. Tchaikovsky follows Pushkin's interpretation and does not idealize Mazeppa; however, his hero is more complex and multi-sided. The ability to bend people to his will, backbone for reaching specific goal, authority and ruthlessness, intensity of the feelings – contradictory traits of hetman are revealed in the opera to the fullest. Lyrical aria ‘Oh, Mariya’, which became most popular, was created later (due to request of first Mazeppa performer – Bogomir Korsov). Aria organically completes the image.

Same as with other operas, the initial impulse for inspiration for Tchaikovsky was female character. Maria sings about fate and predetermination of her love to hetman already in her first arioso (claiming that she is sacrificed and captured as victim by irrevocable and unexpected fate); she admits to Andrei in their duet, who is desperately in love with her, that she is unable to resist this passion even anticipating the death. Real power of Maria’s love is unfolded in her duet with Mazeppa (second act). She gleefully foresees sublime destiny of her beloved one as she feels that crown awaits him. Loss of her father and realization that it is Mazeppa’s guilt drives her to insanity. In the final scene, Maria’s faded consciousness exposes dual image of Mazeppa (“You are ugly, he is beautiful!”). We catch fragments of romantic date, execution, mother’s weeping.

All characters go through a crucible of suffering, which shapes their real greatness. Kochubei’s firmness and nobility in the face of death, Lyubov’s despair, who is begging daughter to save her father, love confession of already weak Andrei – Mazeppa carries death to each of them, in classical style becoming a weapon of inexorable doom. Perhaps, the chain of tragic events influenced creation of Mazeppa when Tchaikovsky was working on it: assassination of Alexander II, early death of beloved niece Tatiana Davidova... Same as before, the thought of inevitable fate followed him. Scenes of interrogations and tortures, execution, murder, madness – Mazeppa remains one of the darkest of classical Russian operas where heat of emotions just sometimes shed the light on lyrical pages.

Finale of the second act becomes a real culmination of opera – scene with Kochubei’s execution. Song of drunken Cossack which irritated Tchaikovsky’s contemporaries (isn’t the extreme degree despair hides behind false bravado?), harsh march, prayer of convicted prisoners and even Mazeppa’s eloquent silence. This theme is constantly played in the orchestra... Fusion of contrast elements gives birth to one of the most thrilling scenes of Russian music. Despite the thoroughly prepared performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg (premieres at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres happened concurrently – February, 1884), initially Mazeppa witnessed rather modest success. Only in XX Century, unique diversity of this work was discovered and became fully appreciated.

Tchaikovsky's opera rarely made the appearance on the playbills of the Bolshoi, but every time production generated extensive interest and attracted attention by having a bright cast (last time it was staged on New Stage by Robert Sturua in 2004). Mazeppa’s score sets high requirements to opera company – three out of five main parts (Mazeppa, Maria and Kochubei) belong to the most difficult in Russian classic repertoire.

The title part will be performed by invited guest, Georg Akobyan, Merited Artist of the Republic of Armenia, in concert version at the Bolshoi on 7 March. He debuted at the Bolshoi in 2017 as Gryaznoy in The Tsar’s Bride (he also performed parts of Tomsky in The Queen of Spades and Ibn-Hakia (Iolanta); soloist of the Bolshoi, Elchin Azizov, one of the leading baritone, will sing a part of Mazeppa on 8 March. Part of Maria on the first day will be performed by St. Petersburg singer Evgenia Muravyeva, who debuted at the Bolshoi as Lisa in a new production of The Queen of Spades; second day – by soloist Anna Nechaeva who started her career at the Bolshoi with Nastasya part in The Enchantress (2012), and now her repertoire includes Lisa, Iolanta and Tatiana. The hardest for vocal and acting is the part of Kochubei who will be performed by soloist of Mariinsky Theatre Stanislav Trofimov (our audience remembers his bright interpretation of title role in Boris Godunov last year). He sang part of Ivan the Terrible in The Maid of Pskov during the tour of Bolshoi in France. Denis Makarov will sing part of Kochubei on 8 March. This famous artist joined the Bolshoi Theatre Opera Company in 2018, but his ‘arsenal’ includes the following parts: Prince Gremin/ Eugene Onegin, Saltan/ The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Pimen/ Boris Godunov, Basilio/ Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Sobakin/ The Tsar’s Bride, Colline/ La Bohème. Renowned leading mezzo-soprano singers will have small but very dramatic part of Lyubov, Elena Manistina (7 March) and Agunda Kulaeva (8 March). Soloist of Mikhailovsky Theatre Dmitry Golovnin will sing lyrico-dramatic role of Andrei on 7 March. He performed on the Bolshoi stage as José in Carmen and Don Juan in The Guest Stone. Soloist of the Bolshoi Opera Company Oleg Dolgov will perform this part on 8 March. Maestro Tugan Sokhiev will be on the conductor’s podium.