Saturday, July 17, 2010


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 18th of July 2010  3.04 - 6.00 pm


TCHAIKOVSKY: Cherevichki (The Tsarina's Slippers) opera in four acts
Oxana........................... Olga Guryakova
Vakula.......................... Vsevolod Grivnov
Solokha........................ Larissa Diadkova
Chub............................. Vladimir Matorin
The Devil...................... Maxim Mikhailov
Schoolmaster................ Vyacheslav Voynarovsky
Pan Golova................... Alexander Vassiliev
Panas............................ John Upperton
His Highness................. Sergei Leiferkus
Master of Ceremonies... Jeremy White
Wood Goblin................ Changhan Lim
Orch of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Alexander Polianichko

This is a comic opera by Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky (Tschaikovsky, if you want him down near the end of the roll); but comedy and Tchaikovsky do not sit well together, we would think (a discordant incongruity?); yet the composer (usually critical of his works) thought it was just perfect.  The introduction (from Wikipedia) has a photograph of him smiling, above a list of his eleven operas. We had better make that a total of ten, as Cherevichki (1887) is a reworking of Vakula the Smith (1876). It comes from a story by Gogol, which was also the basis for Rimsky-Korsakoff's opera Christmas Eve (the original name of the tale).

Cherevichki simply means 'little shoes', but the Tsarina is added in the English title to show that the slippers belonged to Catherine the Great (or somebody like her); Vakula made a pact with the Devil (a devilish devil who merely wants harmless fun, preferring to steal the moon rather than a human soul) to take him to Saint Petersburg to fulfill the wish (or demand) of Oxana (the beautiful woman he loves) and bring back a pair of the Tsarina's shoes. This successful errand ensures a happy ending.

We can  expect some pretty music (the SNIPPET gives you a brief foretaste, with moving cartoons), but the reviewers give the singers and the conductor a lashing. The scenery is said to be striking, but we will not be seeing it (except in the reviews, where we can look at photographs).

Piotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, CHEREVICHKI (THE LITTLE SHOES) (1887)
also translated as The Tsarina’s Slippers, and Les caprices d’Oxane.
This is a thorough revision of his earlier opera Vakula the Smith (1874); it is based on a story by Gogol, which was also the source of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve (1895).
It is nice to to hear some music of (T)Chaikovsky that is rarely played; he loved this opera.
The perfomance was recorded in the Royal Opera House, London, in 2009. 
Sung in Russian, with no English subtitles, so we will listen sympathetically and symphonically.
The synopsis below describes that colourful production.
Time: In the reign of Queen Catherine the Great (born 1729, 1762-1796)
Place: Dikanka, a village in the Ukraine
Roles: VAKULA a smith  SOLOKHA a witch, mother of Vakula  OKSANA  daughter of Chub    PANAS
DEVIL from Hell  CHUB a cossack  PAN GOLOVA   SCHOOLMASTER, all amorously chasing Solokha
ACT 1  Overture (8m)
[1.1] Vakula is the central character, and he is introduced from the outset, setting up his cheeky icon of the Devil, above the village. Solokha, his widowed mother, is sweeping snow off her house, with one of her brooms (which hint at her connection with devils).
The Devil appears (with goat-horns, pig-nose, black fingernail-claws, long tail, and a wig); he wants Solokha to use her powers as a witch and assist him to steal the moon. They eventually fly up and achieve this. (The Devil’s accompanying demons double as stagehands.)
[1.2] Annoyed by Vakula’s mocking representation of him, the Devil creates a snow storm to prevent him visiting his beloved Oksana, and Chub is also hindered from returning home.
[1.3] Oksana is at home, alone and lonely, passing through a variety of moods as she sings.
[1.4] Vakula succeeds in getting through the snow, and watches her as she  admiries herself and her jewellery in a mirror. When he enters she teases him, as he tells her ardently of his love for her.
[1.5] While she is in her own room, her father Chub enters; Vakula does not recognize him, and strikes him, driving him out into the snow again.
[1.6] Oksana then sends Vakula away in distress; when he is gone she realizes she loves him.
[1.7] Young villagers come by, singing Ukrainian Christmas carols.
ACT 2 
[2.1] Solokha is entertaining the Devil in her house; he binds her to himself with his tail; they are interrupted by another visitor, so she hides the Devil in a sack.
[2.2] This suitor or seducer is the Mayor (Pan Golova), and he brings her a gift of a string of sausages as a (temporary) necklace; but he is soon tied up in a bag.
[2.3] The third newcomer is the Schoolmaster (or Deacon); he is fat and loose-fingered, fondling the lady freely, till he is necessarily sacked.
[2.4] Fourthly, Chub arrives with the same intention as the others, but heavy knocking on the door leads to him being concealed in a sack. At one point (in a quintet) the mayor takes back his sausages.
[2.5] Finally Vakula is allowed in, and (after singing his arioso) he drags the four sacks away.
[2.6] Three groups of carollers are singing. Oksana arrives on the scene, and Vakula is also there with his sacks. Oksanae is looking enviously at another woman’s boots. She makes her demand: unless Vakula brings her the Tsarina’s boots (or slippers, or whatever) she will not marry him. He becomes suicidal; he departs dragging one of the sacks (it contains the Devil).
[3.1] A company of water nymphs (rusalkas) is informed by a forest sprite that Vakula is coming. Vakula arrives and ponders his next move, while a male aquatic creature tries to entice him into the water. The Devil emerges from his sack and attempts to get Vakula’s soul in exchange for Oksana, but Vakula seizes him by the tail and forces him to transport them to Saint Petersburg.
[3.2] Vakula joins some cossacks who are going to see the Tsaritsa.
[3.3] In the reception hall, Vakula lifts ladies dresses to inspect their footwear. His request is granted because of its novelty! Russian dance and Cossack dance.
[4.1 In the town square on Christmas Day, Solokha and Oksana are in mourning; they think Vakula has drowned himself. When Oksana is invited to a Christmas feast, she leaves in tears. Vakula returns and seeks forgiveneess from Chub for the beating he gave him; he asks him for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
[4.2] Oksana comes and tells Vakula that she wants him, not the boots. But the Devil brings them on a cushion.
[4.3] Chub calls for a celebration. In this production the happy couple ride off in a golden sleigh in the form of a shoe.

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