Modest Mussorgsky: The Fair at Sorochyntsi/Сорочинская ярмарка (1880/1913)

Comic opera in three acts. Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes.


At last, this is Mussorgsky’s Meistersinger, or at least it would be were it three hours longer or at least completed. The first year in the title is for when Mussorgsky stopped composing, the second for when it was finally performed in some manner. As the score was left in fragments and even the plot was never fully developed, what we have is a love story of sorts with some comic (board definition) episodes.

SETTING: Sorochintsy, early 19th century. The plot is vague and confusing, based as it is on a short story by Gogol. The basic idea is that the peasant Gritsko (tenor) is in love with Parasya (soprano), the daughter of Cherevik (bass) the husband of Khivrya (mezzo-soprano) who is apparently having an affair with the son of the village priest, Afanasy Ivanovich (tenor) while the family stays at the house of Kum (bass-baritone) (note: rhymes with zoom, I know that otherwise I will be opening myself up to too many crude jokes) during the fair. Cherevik gives his permission to have the lovers wed, but then takes it away and Gritsko enlists the help of a Gypsy (baritone) to persuade his would be father-in-law to change his mind again. Somehow this all takes place during a week fair and a certain uber-famous piece written by Mussorgsky that features in Fantasia plays into this (here as an act three interlude, but usually at the end of act one).



ACT 1 (28 minutes)

Scene: The Fair, a pub, the front of the house of Kum, day going into evening.

0: The prelude * starts off with three minutes of some good countryside music (not Dawn over the Moscow River but tuneful enough), it eventually ends on something a bit more Italian opera-ish as the curtain goes up and we hear the peasants as they sell their wears at the fair rather noisily.

7: Zdravo! The arrival of the gypsy who goes into a story about how Satan apparently wears a red jacket *, which is very catchy. It turns into an ensemble with the two lovers Gritzko and Parasya before her father Cherevik arrives as is at first resistant but learns that Gritzko is the son of a long lost friend and accepts him as a future son-in-law. There is one good vocal bit here from Gritzko but otherwise it is strict recitative as they go into a pub to get drunk for some reason.

11: Kolesa! A somewhat ferocious chorus *, is followed by two dialogue sequences. The first for Cherevik and Kum, or godfather, as they come out drunk. Cherevik is confronted by his wife Khivrya. She objects to the wedding plans (which is odd because she is step-mother to Parasya, not her birth mother, but whatever, none of this makes any sense), and as Gritzko overhears, Cherevik promises her to call off the wedding. The orchestra Mickey-mouses its way to an end here.

21: Za chemj ty serdtse Suddenly we are in Le scare de Printemps with the oboe, but no, instead it is a fragmentary but rather touching (and apparently difficult) tenor aria as our hero (of sorts) has his dreams dashed **. The gypsy returns and makes a pact with Gritzko that if he can get Cherevik to change his mind about the wedding, he will give him his oxen. There is an orchestral fade out.

ACT 2: (39 minutes)

Scene: Inside the house of Kum, late evening into night.

8: Prihodi skorei moj milenkij  Cherevik is asleep and apparently the family is being housed at the house of Kum so Khivrya quarrels with him in order to get him out of the house so she can entertain her lover Afanasy Ivanovich, the son of the village priest. It is mostly ornery until he leaves her alone and suddenly this start-stop tune for Khivrya appears out of absolutely nowhere * but which seems like its might have been a first draft for Marfa in Khovanshchina. Cherevik is heard one last time outside before the scene ends with a bouncy folk song in the last two minutes for the mezzo just before the second tenor arrives.

16: Vot tobi na! The food duet **. Ivanovich arrives and eats a huge amount of food prepared by Khivrya (he devourers her rich cooking, get it?). Soon, knocking is heard at the door and Ivanovich is heard reciting Lord have mercy in Orthodox litany form (trust me, I know this stuff), as he hides on a shelf (seriously, a shelf).

23: A? Shto? Gde? Cherevik returns * with a group of men searching for Satan because they saw a man going into the house wearing a red jacket (obviously it was Ivanovich, but they never figure this out). A tranquil tune on the flute comes out of the orchestra before Kum goes into the story about Satan and the red jacket (comparatively ornery). Apparently he shows up with the face of a pig (because they are not kosher?)

28: Oj! Rududu! The men embark on a weird chorus * as they search the house for Satan but are stopped finally by Khivrya. There is yet another idiot chorus which lasts all of a few second about three minutes later, also instantly killed by the second bit about Satan from Kum (the pig thing). Suddenly, a pig snout is seen outside the window, a hell breaks loose. Curtain.

ACT 3: (29 minutes)

Scene 1: The street before the house of Kum, the same night.

0: Lovi ikh! As a result of the confusion at the end of the previous act, Cherevik and Kum are chased by the Gypsy and some boys * under an accusation that they have stolen a mare. Gritzko returns and extracts a promise from Cherevik that he will marry Parasya. The two older men are then released.  Relaxing, but possibly familiar music (although it is a transposed ending) as Gritzko falls asleep for some reason.

8: Sagana! Sagana! The Dream ***. Yes, this really is what you think it is, do not adjust your radio or television set, this really is the choral version of the famous Nightmare on Bald Mountain. A somewhat awkward bass performing Chernobog comes on and almost ruins things but the chorus takes over again. Definitely the best thing in the show even if its presence sticks out like a daisy in mud.

Scene 2: The same as scene 1, the next morning.

20: Ty ne grusti We meet up with Parasya (who we haven’t seen since the first ten minutes of the opera, but whatever) and she is sad because of Gritzko. This aria is actually rather good **. She tires to cheer up with a Hopak (a dance), her father joins in without her noticing and it is only when Gritzko arrives with Kum and her father blesses their union that she knows everything will be alright.

24: Radostno mne, ljubij moj! The finale * (because there are less than five minutes left) starts off with a tuneful mini-duet for the bridal pair and then a chorus of happy villagers followed by the arrival of Khivrya who has to be restrained because of her opposition to the wedding (while also having no cause to object, but whatever). The work ends with yet another happy hopak, this time choral. Curtains.


There are some interesting features here. Although most of the music sounds like it consists of rejected bits of Khovanshchina, the vocal lines have a complexity to them not found, or at least very rarely, in other Mussorgsky operas, and this comes out in some rather well executed arias, duets, and ensemble numbers. His tendency here to allow for syllabically sustained eighth-notes would be closer to bel canto were it not so late in musical history. The best bits are (in order), the dream sequence/nightmare, the arias for Gritzko and Parasya, the long solo with folk song for Khivrya and her duet with Afanasy Ivanovich in the second act, the first act prelude, the closing hopak, and the Gypsy aria.

The relation of the second act to the first and third is really not all that obvious at all other than for the fact that it includes four characters from the other acts. These four characters are better developed than the romantic leads (excluding Gritzko), yet no one really gets enough overall stage time to make more than a single impact (except for Cherevik). But by far the biggest problem with Sorochinsky Fair is the fact that it is only a fragment of an opera, which if it had been completed (and had a continuous plot and character development) might have been rather good. Not an alpha, not a beta, in all honesty some lesser category as one sees fit.

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