Shponka… is my first major effort in the opera genre. Work progressed very quickly. In three months I had written all the basic material. The ease of writing was a result of the extremely high-quality libretto by Arkady Zastyrets. Initially it was terrifying to take a non-poetic text, but during the composition process I came to understand the full delight of working with prose.
The main musical material consists of citations from my works (I am quoting simply because the music is good, so why should it go to waste?) and genuine folk songs such as Oh, There Flew the Peacock, The Lizard Sits Beloved, Beloved and A Miracle under the Mountain, which I have had my eye on for some time, and, at last, I was given the chance to make good use of them. And thus the flavour – at times somewhat countrified.
My musical credo is for beautiful, extended melodies and an elastic, precise, vivid rhythm. And so in the opera there is a great deal of rhythmic, fast-paced, somewhat “pop” music (and just one slow piece). But that´s where the treasure lies: combining the incongruous.
I never write anything in an ordered way, I always start from where I am most gripped. I remember, reading the libretto for the first time, that I truly loved the ending: all the protagonists are brides! Especially Storchenko in a wedding dress – that was something else! And again, initially I wanted the aunt to be played by a man and sung by a baritone or bass. So that he could lift up Shponka in his arms when they meet! But, as some erudite persons told me, in theatre as well as in life there are insufficient men, and it´s simpler to give the role to a female voice. But still, I love the aunt, she is a catalyst for the whole plot in the opera, and each time always somewhat different.
Initially this story was loved for its unusual beginning and end: a beginning without a beginning and an end without an end – if you want to, then that´s how to take it… I don´t see any special scenes, “how that should be staged”, in the end I´m not a director. I trust completely the vision of professionals. It is, probably, very hard: the protagonists are constantly going from house to house, all the time eating or drinking something… But I know that the finale draws attention. The last dream is of particular importance, when the whirlwind begins, everything gets mixed up and the result is clear: the brides and Shponka. In the music for this scene I used a very famous rhythm from Queen´s We Will Rock You. Maybe we should try a joke like that – all the singers together should start to belt it out and sing, just imagine how it would rock!
SYNOPSIS OF THE OPERA SHPONKA AND HIS AUNT
Retired thirty-eight year-old lieutenant Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka receives a letter from his aunt Vasilisa Tsupchevskaya, where, referring to her ill health, asks him to come and help with the property. Shponka sets off. On the way he stops at an inn where he meets one Grigory Storchenko. In conversing, it transpires that they are neighbours. Storchenko insistently invites Shponka to his house.
Arriving at his aunt´s, it turns out that she is in wonderful physical form and deceitfully chose merely to lure her nephew to deal with some paperwork that involves Grigory Storchenko. Finding out that Shponka has met him on the road, she sends Ivan Fyodorovich to the house of this irrepressible man, her loathsome neighbour.
Arriving at Storchenko´s, Shponka immediately attacks a generous lunch. At table, he becomes familiar with Grigory Grigorievich´s two sisters – Brunette and Fair-Haired.
Returning to his aunt´s, Shponka meets her on her way back from a hunt and they start a talk from which the aunt learns that at lunch at Storchenko´s Ivan has fallen for the fair-haired maid. Instantly a plan begins to form in her mind: to marry her nephew off, and at the same time solve her problems. The aunt and Shponka set off for the Storchenkos.
At Storchenko´s house, the aunt arranges for Ivan Fyodorovich to be left alone with Fair-Haired. But, a man utterly at sea in affairs of the heart, the abashed Shponka is completely unable to carry an inappropriate talk about flies.
On the way home in the britzka, the aunt tries to convince her nephew of the need to marry. For Shponka these words come as a prison sentence. Once alone, he has a glass of vodka and falls asleep, suffering from thoughts of marriage.
These thoughts and events of a mad day do not abandon him even in his slumber. His aunt, Storchenko and his two sisters appear before Shponka in wedding dresses, and each of them proves: “It is I who am your wife!” The visions encourage Shponka and decisively call on him to wake up and marry.