Heorhi Maiboroda: Yaroslav Mudriy/Yaroslav the Wise (1975)

Opera in three acts (eight tableaux). Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes.

I started this review before the current situation.

Essentially a grand opera in three acts (complete with two ballets and a large cast of soloists), this relatively recent opera is a Ukrainian offering evoking near comical comparisons to Boris Godunov and Alexander Nevsky. The composer Georgi Maiboroda lived from 1913 to 1992, with this being the last of his four operas. Like Svatopluk or Nerone do not be fooled by the very late premier date, this score is conservative and diatonic. I probably would not have bothered if it were not. The title character is an 11th century Prince of Kiev known as Yaroslav the Wise in English, but if he were wise, that is hardly indicated by the plot of this opera. The general consensus is that although the first two acts have a strong narrative (although the rationales for the male characters are confused) the third act is brief (18 minutes) and dramatically inept with most of the action occurring offstage and ending in a symbolic final tableaux with no plot value. Yaroslav in particular is incredibly passive, more reacting than actually taking matters into his own hands until the end of Act 3 Scene 1 (the last scene in the opera in which any action actually takes place on stage). The libretto was by the composer, drawn from a dramatic poem by Ivan Kocherga.

SETTING: Kiev, between 1044 and 1053. The plot, such as it is because it is very confusing, recounts how indecisive human beings can be. Yaroslav (bass) is threatened by three major forces, all represented by various characters. First is Novgorod in the form of the rather docile Mykyta (tenor) the son of the mayor Kosnyatin who (while disguised as a monk) gives up plotting to assassinate the prince when he falls unrequitedly in love with his daughter, Elizaveta (soprano). Elizaveta, however, is in love with Harald Hardrada (baritone) a Norwegian nobleman who becomes King of Norway. Meanwhile (there are a lot of these) Zhureyko (tenor) a native Kievan, kills a Varangian who attempted to rape his wife Mylusha (soprano) and swears revenge on Yaroslav for letting the attempted rapist (who also murdered his brother-in-law) free at the rather idiotic pleading of Elizaveta (she isn’t very smart). However, at the same time, Zhureyko revealed to Yaroslav that his queen, the Swedish princess Ingigerda (soprano) and a Viking named Ulf plotted to assassinate him, sending Ingigerda to a convent. After Elizaveta marries Harald and becomes Queen of Norway, Mykyta finds solace with the Sicilian girl Gemma (mezzo-soprano) who happens to be a part of the court of Harald. In the end, Elizaveta dies in Norway between acts two and three, they fight the Pechenegs, Mykyta is revealed to be the son of the mayor of Novgorod, dies in battle, and Yaroslav is acclaimed as a wise ruler (no reason given, the Kievans just praise him as such). Confused?

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (38 minutes)

Scene 1: A room in the palace being used by scribes. (18 minutes)

0, 9, 14, 16: The opening choral scene * as the ladies of the court go off to Matins with the blessing of Silvestr, the head scribe, who from his vestments appears to be an Archpriest. He prays as he supervises the scribes under him. He speaks with Mykyta, who he knows is hiding something (but what?). There is also a comic bass named Svichkohas who spills his ink all over the floor, but the first items of real interest is the arrival of Elizaveta * who turns her conversation with Mykyta into a full-blown aria ** before her servant, Gemma, arrives, announcing the arrival of a blond stranger. This is Harald, who comes to woo the beauteous Elizaveta, and embarks on a dramatic aria ** after speaking with Princess Ingigerda, followed by a furious symphony as everyone else leaves except Mykyta who decides not to kill Yaroslav after all *.

Scene 2: A garden in the palace. (20 minutes)

19: An energetic prelude * brings us to the rather docile Yaroslav as he speaks with Silvestr, who is attended by Mykyta. This is okay plot forwarding, but musically it is only so-so. Elizaveta shows up, which at least brightens up the situation.

25: The arrival of Harald provides as opportunity for a pick-up in the music * as Yaroslav tells him that he can marry Elizaveta, when he, Harald, is a king.

30: The Harald-Elizaveta love duet ** is a mild piece, lyrical, but mostly lacking in passion, better resembling a mazurka actually. It starts off really more as an aria for Harald before Elizaveta finally pops in (the music falls apart at this point). It does, at least, have a good finish.

34: The act finishes off with a good crowd scene *** in which the stonemason Zhureyko takes his case against the viking Turvald, who has attempted to rape his wife Mylusha and has already murdered his brother-in-law. Yaroslav passes judgment, but is convinced by Elizaveta to be lenient with Turvald and reduce his sentence to a fine (which is paid by Harald). Turvald is killed by Zhureyko for repeating his assault of Mylusha, who flees. Elizaveta is (rightfully) publicly humiliated for this bad turn of events as the curtain falls. Maiboroda accomplishes a surprisingly effective scene dramatically, and embarrasses the soprano (wildly anticipated) in rapid succession, something even Verdi failed at doing.

ACT 2: (47 minutes)

Scene 1: A room in the palace. (10 minutes)

1: A furious prelude (based on themes from the previous scene and very dark), flows directly in a four-minute mono-cant for Yaroslav **.

5, 9: He gets into an argument with Ingigerda when she asks him to pardon Ulf, a Viking Yaroslav plans to banish. She insults him, but much of this is another mono-cant *. A noble shows up with news that Novgorod has rebelled. Yaroslav orders the execution of the mayor, Kosnyatin *.

Scene 2: Gardens of the Palace as in Act 1 Scene 2 but dressed up for a wedding. (6 minutes)

11: The Wedding Procession *** gets broken into by a very good passage of mono-cant from bride-groom Harald and his chorus of Norwegian knights. Probably the best singular number in the entire opera. The remainder of the scene consists of a choral-ballet scene which is very effective. Brief, all of six minutes, but perhaps the best overall scene in the opera and dead centre in the score.

Scene 3: The Palace Gardens, night. (31 minutes)

17: The Intermezzo **, a brief but dramatic prelude after the frivolity of the wedding celebrations.

19: Mykyta bemoans his loss of Elizaveta (did he ever really have a chance? where was this subplot going really?). Mykyta is told by messenger of the death of his father (to a rather good female background chorus).

25: Gemma, a Sicilian woman who happens to be part of the wedding party brought by Harald, has fallen in love with Mykyta and expresses her desire for him *** (although he tries to claim that he is a monk to stop her). This is the first number in the opera that really gets the blood racing, and probably one of the best mezzo cameo parts.

31: Svitchkohas shows up with Mylusha. Zhureyko returns and goes over some plot details with Svitchkohas, who then leaves. Ingigerda and Ulf plot against Yaroslav. Basically, it is the middle of act 3 of Figaro until Ingigerda is left alone and embarks on an aria **.

34, 38: A slightly chromatic love duet for the reunited Mylusha and Zhureyko * (little do they know). She reveals the plot between Ulf and Ingigerda and gets dispatched by Ulf. The wedding party comes on and Mylusha gets about half-way through incriminating Ingigerda for treason against her own husband before succumbing and Zhureyko (who has lost an awful lot already) tries to get through the rest while also embarking in mourning his wife **.

41: After a whirlwind chorus from the women, Yaroslav is accompanied by a very strong lower string feature which brings with it a very dramatic finish ***. We end up with one of the few ensemble numbers (a brief quintet including Elizaveta who has been silent up to this point), climaxing on Yaroslav banishing Ingigerda to a monastery. The act ends with a choral requiem for Mylusha.

ACT 3: (18 minutes)

Scene 1: Throne Room in the Palace of Yaroslav, ten years later. (9 minutes)

0: The closest thing to a Verdian scene as Yaroslav holds court awaiting news of the invading Pechenegs **. Ingigerda is brought in and the parents are told news by the newly returned Mykyta that Elizaveta has died in Norway. But the Pechenegs will not wait, prompting a quintet before Zhureyko appears with news that Novgorod is also under attack and is offering to join forces with Yaroslav to defeat them. Mykyta takes the opportunity to make a vicious comment to him about needing Novgorod which causes Yaroslav to make to strike the younger man but is stopped by Gemma who reveals who Mykyta actually is (finally!). The scene ends abruptly with Yaroslav making preparations for battle.

Scene 2: The Battle. (4 minutes)

9: The Battle against the Pechenegs occurs entirely in the form of a orchestral intermezzo with ballet **.

Scene 3: The Triumph, a public place in Kiev. (5 minutes)

15: The finale consists of the Slava! chorus followed by final remarks from Yaroslav about how Rus is immortal and Kiev will live forever to a very catchy tune *** with continued Slava! Slava! and ending with church bells (there is a false ending, so watch for the very end).

COMMENTS:

SO MANY SIDE CHARACTERS! Often times important to the rather all-over-the-place plot.

The role of Elizaveta is a false lead, one expects her to be the primary female character given act one but the sudden humiliation of her poor judgment in the Turvald rape-murder case causes an immediate demotion and she is basically window dressing during her act two wedding (and dead afterwards). Ironically, the very moment Maiboroda demolishes the intelligence of his soprano as a character is also one of the best executed moments in the score and certainly its first great moment.

From that point, the second act takes on an entirely different plot, now with Queen Ingigerda as the prima donna, until she, too, is found guilty of problematic judgment. The comparatively minor figure of Mylusha gets the death scene, her husband the better tenor anger scene than the slightly annoying Mykyta (to me anyway).

The third act is brief and most of the action is taken up by the orchestra. After two large acts the rapidity of the final act can seem odd.

The title of the opera is rather ironic, as Yaroslav does nothing to actually indicate that he is personally wise.

I wish the role of Gemma was bigger, there are so many elements in the libretto which could have been expanded upon but simply were not.

The plot is rather ridiculous, and the cast is sprawling, but the music does have its merits. There are dull mechanical theatre scenes for sure, but next to them are some very well crafted and dramatically effective numbers which made reviewing this entry worth it. And it really is not that long either!

An alpha minus or beta plus according to taste.

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