Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Voyevoda Suite – arranged by Peter Breiner (PB050)
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Instrumentation: 2+1, 2+1, 2+1, 2+1 - 4, 3, 3, 1 - timp - perc - hp - cel - str
The first of Tchaikovskyʼs operas was Voyevoda (The Provincial Governor), based on Ostrovskyʼs comedy Son na Volge (A Volga Dream), written in 1867-68, its libretto originally the work of Ostrovsky and the composer, until Ostrovsky withdrew from the enterprise, leaving Tchaikovsky to reduce the opera from four to three acts, removing the most lively and interesting elements and characters, if we are to accept Tchaikovskyʼs brother Modestʼs judgement. After Tchaikovskyʼs training at Anton Rubinsteinʼs St Petersburg Conservatory, where he had been among the first graduating class in 1866, he had been appointed by Nikolay Rubinstein to teach harmony at the parallel institution in Moscow. Bearing in mind Tchaikovskyʼs relative lack of experience, it is not surprising that the new opera was a failure. The plot of Ostrovskyʼs play was far too diffuse to serve as the basis of an opera, and the necessary abridgement of the work made the plot uneventful. The work was staged at the Bolshoy Theatre in 1869 and given five performances before it was withdrawn. Tchaikovsky finally destroyed it, having made use of elements from the score in his ballet Swan Lake and in the opera Oprichnik in the early 1870s. Voyevoda was reconstructed in 1937 by Sergey Popov, using surviving sketches and orchestral and choral parts, and again in 1949 by Pavel Lamm, with the composers Visarion Shebalin and Yuri Kochurov, to a newly devised libretto.
The opera is set in the mid-seventeenth century in a town on the Volga. The opening scene is the garden of Dyuzhoy, a rich merchant. His daughter Praskovya is to marry Shaligin, the Voyevoda; her nurse Nedviga disapproves, while her sister Mariya is impatient for her own marriage and sings a tale of a girl, imprisoned in a tower, but, as she improvises in a new ending, united with her lover, while her parents and guards sleep. Mariyaʼs lover Bastryukov tries to gain admittance, serenades her and is accepted as her future husband, although the opposition of his enemy, the Voyevoda, is anticipated. They pledge fidelity, but are interrupted by the arrival of the Voyevoda, with Dyuzhoy and his wife, with the Jester. Bastryukov hides, while the Voyevoda demands to see his future wife again, a breach of convention. Mariya rushes in, after an encounter in the bushes with the Jester, who has left the company when no drink came his way. The Voyevoda immediately finds her more acceptable as a wife than her sister, and Dyuzhoy agrees to allow him to marry her. When they have all gone, Bastryukov emerges and, betrayed by the Jester, is only protected from arrest by his servants. The act ends with all determined to achieve their own aims.
The second act opens in the entrance hall of Bas- tryukovʼs house. He is sad at the loss of his beloved Mariya. Dubrovin enters. He has been forced to become a fugitive, after the Voyevoda took his wife and ruined him and will now help Bastryukov. It seems that the Voyevoda is to leave the next day on a pilgrimage and his wife, Olyona, and Mariya will wait in the garden for rescue. The scene changes to the Voyevodaʼs house. Mariya sings of a girl imprisoned and of a nightingale, and freedom. She is joined by Olyona, who explains her own predicament; they are to await rescue the following night.
In the third act, set at night in a courtyard, Bastryukov and Dubrovin have made the guards drunk and prepare to carry out their plan. They are joined by Mariya and Olyona, the latter united once more with Dubrovin. They are interrupted by the unexpected return of the Voyevoda, who threatens death and drags Mariya away. Matters are resolved by a deus ex machina in the person of a new Voyevoda, who appears in the nick of time, ensuring a happy ending for the lovers. The first excerpt orchestrated is taken partly from the opening of the second act, with elements drawn from the preceding scene. The second is Bastryukovʼs serenade of Mariya in the first act. This is followed by the duet between Dubrovin and Olyona in the third act, when they foresee their future happiness together. The third act provides the fourth excerpt with Dubrovinʼs opening aria in which he reveals his plan to rescue Olyona and wonders whether she still loves him. The fifth excerpt is taken from the opening of the second scene of the second act, when maidens dance around Mariya, now a prisoner of the Voyevoda. The series of extracts ends with an orchestration based on the Overture, which establishes the Russian nature of the story to come.