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date: 14 December 2019

Vrazh’ya sila (‘The Power of the Fiend’; ‘Hostile Power’)locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

(‘The Power of the Fiend’; ‘Hostile Power’)

Opera in five acts by Alexander Nikolayevich Serov to a libretto by Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky (Acts 1–3), Pyotr Kalashnikov and Alexander Zhokhov (Acts 4 and 5) after Ostrovsky’s play Ne tak zhivi, kak khochetsya, a tak, kak bog velit (‘Live Not the Way you’d Like, but as God Commands’, 1855), completed after the composer’s death by his widow Valentina Serova and Nikolay Solov’yov; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 19 April/1 May 1871.

Ostrovsky’s play, designated a ‘comedy’ because of its happy ending, was valued by its contemporaries for its portrayal of the confined domestic life of the Moscow merchant class and for its sustained ironic counterpoint of dark doings against the background of the Shrovetide carnival. Pyotr (baritone, in the opera), a young merchant, bored by his wife Dasha (soprano) and oppressed by his strict father, philanders with Grunya (mezzo-soprano), the daughter of Spiridonovna (contralto) the local innkeeper, and, under the influence of a sinister blacksmith named Yeryomka (bass), briefly considers murder as a means of escape. He bethinks himself in time, however, and the play ends with an affirmation of the patriarchal order. As he often did, Ostrovsky peppered the play liberally with proverbs and quotations from folksongs. The chance of using folksongs as the bearer of the drama at every level from recitative to act-finishing ensemble, plus the broad musical possibilities inherent in the carnival background, were what attracted Serov to the play, recommended to him by his close friend the poet Apollon Grigor’yev. Ostrovsky agreed to turn his prose drama into a verse libretto....

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