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  • Richard Taruskin


Opera in four acts, op.58, by Eduard Nápravník to a libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky (assisted by Josef Paleček and advised by Ivan Vsevolozhsky) after Pushkin’s unfinished novella; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 3/15 January 1895.

Pushkin’s melodramatic story of vengeance and star-crossed love was practically an operatic gala even before it was set to music: a landowner’s son (Vladimir Dubrovsky, tenor in the opera), cheated out of his inheritance by Kirill Troyekurov (baritone), a false friend of his father Andrey (bass), becomes a ‘noble outlaw’ but is undone by love for Troyekurov’s daughter, Masha (soprano). To be near her, he intercepts and impersonates a French tutor and gives her music lessons. That is one natural opportunity for the composer, to which Nápravník responded with some pretty vocalises and French salon ditties. There are also massed choral scenes: the elder Dubrovsky’s wake, the robbers’ den (including a funnier-than-intended scene with the hapless tutor, M. Desforges) and above all the younger Dubrovsky’s first criminal act (turned by the librettist into the Act 1 finale), consisting of the lurid murder by arson of the rude bailiffs sent by the court to take possession of the Dubrovsky homestead on Troyekurov’s behalf. The one decidedly unoperatic feature of the literary source was the way it ended, or rather broke off, with Masha married off to an old nobleman against her will and Dubrovsky narrowly escaping capture. Modest Tchaikovsky replaced this typically Pushkinian anti-climax with a gigantic love duet, reminiscent of the one he wrote for his brother’s opera on ...

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