Igor Stravinsky: Mavra (1922)

Opera in one act. Running Time: 28 minutes.


Written in a neo-classical style, this was a failure in Paris at its premiere but Stravinsky always considered it his best composition. The story is taken from a poem by Pushkin entitled “The Little House at Kolomna”.

SETTING: The parlour of a St. Petersburg middle class home, 19th century. Parasha (soprano) tries to pass off her Hussar lover Vassili  (tenor) as a new female cook (the “Mavra” of the title) for her Mother (contralto) but when she finds him shaving she thinks he is a burglar and faints prompting him to escape through the window. The only other character is a mezzo-soprano neighbour.


0: The overture ** is a lovely neo-classical composition which immediately flows into–

2, 4: Parasha’s Song * as she laments her absent lover while sowing and Vassili arrives twirling his moustache ** and manages to get a date with her at eight the following evening.

8: Parasha’s mother arrives mourning her dead cook Phiocla *, giving the girl an idea….

11: Mother’s Neighbour arrives and they discuss the weather and the rising cost of living in an elaborate duet **.

16: Parasha tries to pass off Vassili as a new (female) cook for her Mother in a rather grand quartet ***.

18: A lovely love duet for Parasha and Vassili ***.

23, 27: Left alone as the two women go on a walk, Vassili thinks about Parasha ** but eventually makes the fatal mistake of deciding to shave. The women come back *, Mother freaks out and passes out, the Neighbour calls for help, Vassili jumps out the window and Parasha laments the loss of her love.


I am inclined to agree with Stravinsky, this little work is rather good and a delightful return to the cosmopolitan musical realm of Tchaikovsky and Glinka over Mussorgsky and other Russian nationalist composers. Although scored for a standard orchestra, it requires only solo violin and viola parts, meaning that the other sections and instruments dominate (woodwinds especially) over the usually all-powerful upper strings. The vocal scoring, for female voices and tenor, provides a bit of a refreshment from lower voice dominated works. A mini-alpha, and definitely deserving of more of an airing.

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