Nikolaj Rimsky-Korsakov: Boyarynya Vera Sheloga/The Noblewoman Vera Sheloga (1877/1898)

Opera in one act. Running Time: 50 minutes.

I start a new teaching position today which involved me relocating, that being the reason why I posted so much earlier last month and then disappeared for more than two weeks. The reviews will probably not be so frequent, but I already have at least one post per month for the rest of the year and I will continue to work on reviews during my academic breaks. My personal preference is to post twice a month, although I am determined to post at least once per month.

I finished this review back in January.

Rimsky wrote this originally as a prologue to his first opera The Maid of Pskov in the second version of that opera. It is based on the first act of the play by Lev Mei on which both operas are based but Rimsky had originally cut the first act when he started writing the original opera in 1868. He later dropped the prologue and partially rewrote the work with a new overture and a reworking of the role of Nadedzda with his new speech-pattern style of vocal writing. Otherwise, the opera is basically the same as the prologue conception.

SETTING: Pskov, circa 1550. Vera Sheloga (soprano) reveals to her sister Nadedzda (mezzo-soprano) that her infant daughter Olga was fathered by Tsar Ivan IV. In order to save her sister from the wrath of her husband, Ivan Shelog (bass) Nadedzda tells him that the child is hers, by her own husband, Prince Tokmakov (baritone or bass). There is also a nurse for Nadedzda named Vlasyevna (contralto) who plays an important role in the beginning of the opera.

LOOK OUT FOR:

0: The overture * is energetic with references to the Tsar theme from The Maid of Pskov which is itself a Tsarist hymn, and serviceable, but otherwise has no major tune apart from a leitmotif for Olga (an ascending line). Some of it comes off as an exercise, especially in the middle.

8: Vot matushka Boyarynya The opening scene is a long dialogue * between Vlasyevna and Nadedzda. They can not find Vera, but, eventually, she is heard far in the distance singing a lullaby. She comes closer with each of the three interjections she emotes. Vlasyevna appears to disappear at this point in the score.

16: Bayu, bayu Vera sings a haunting lullaby ***. This is followed by a long recitative dialogue between the sisters in which the conflict of the narrative (the paternity of baby Olga) is discussed. At first, if not calm, at least Vera is subdued, but quickly things turn to agitation for the woman as she is trapped, her husband can never know the truth of her adultery with the Tsar (although she takes a while to admit the Tsar Ivan IV part)!

24: Nyet, zherebji moj rypal! The first climax of the agitation ** is a first lengthy passage of arioso for Vera followed two minutes later by a second passage.

28: Da, kto zh takoj? Nadedzda asks the fatal question * prompting another patch of arioso from Vera as she goes into details. Nadedzda thinks she hears a sound, but it appears to be nothing, then Vera embarks on more details/fear/complaints. Nadedzda is not sure what to think of all of this, and tells Vera so. There are references to Olga, Tsar Ivan, Vera. A trumpet voluntaire is heard outside, the sisters know that their husbands are outside. Vera prays. For some reason, this drags. More trumpet voluntaire, the sisters know something will have to happen.

47: Zdorovo! With three minutes left, we finally hear male voices (Tokmakov gets one word in which he shares with Shelog) and the plot is allowed to unfold ***. Shelog demands to know whose the baby is in a ninety-second long monologue pregnant with terror. Nadedzda declares that it is hers to save Vera. Not sure what the outcome of this is but given that the music is so serious, I assume that Nadedzda is going to suffer in some way.

COMMENTS:

I am not really sure at all what to say about this opera. The lullaby and the final are great, but it is also much longer than it needs to be. The two male parts are not exactly worth casting out for, seeing that they are only in the score for four pages and one of them gets four notes to sing. In truth, the opera is mostly a dialogue between the sisters Nadedzda and Vera about the singular situation going on about the baby Olga. A mini alpha?

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