Once, the postgraduate student of the Moscow Conservatoire Leonid Klinichev (1938–) conceived the idea of composing an opera after Sholokhov’s novel Quiet Flows the Don. After graduating he specially travelled to Kuban, collected four hundred Cossack songs, and actually remained in Rostov. The opera eventually became a ballet with the same title which was staged at the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre. Then Larisa Gergieva proposed that the composer collaborate with the Mariinsky Academy of Young Opera Singers. Thus appeared the opera Bela based on a plot by Lermontov (the world premiere took place at the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre in 2014); previously there had been two mono-operas dedicated to two great poets of the 20th century (neither of whom, it would appear, liked the word “poetess”): Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva.
Anna was first performed in 2009 in Vladikavkaz, and in January 2016 it was staged in Nizhny Novgorod. This performance marks the St Petersburg premiere of the work, the heroine of the opera as if returning to the “granite city of glory and misery”.
The opera contains a prosaic narrative in first person mixed with extracts from Akhmatova’s poems from over the years – sort of poetic intermezzos, lyrical comments to her autobiography. As it progresses the more fractional the quotations become, as if the breathing is interrupted and the thoughts become muddled: when it touches on the terrifying years of yezhovshchina, “the most murderous”, her husband being shot and her son arrested, with feverish speed fragments of four poems follow one after another. Musically, the opera is structured as an expansive recitative with inserted vocal numbers, among them a waltz (I Rarely Received Presents from my Tatar Grandmother), a mazurka (How Seldom You Smile) and a cradle-song (Under the Bridges Patches of Open Water Steam). Akhmatova’s famous verse “Gold rusts, steel decays...” formed part of the final piece The Bells – the composer looked back at the tradition of Russian bell music and works by Rachmaninoff, Gavrilin and Shchedrin.
Anna is the closest “relative” to Soviet mono-dramas. The genre was at its height in the 1970s, producing several short masterpieces, among them the opera White Nights by Yuri Butsko, which is also being performed as part of this subscription. The musical language of the work is noble, a seemingly somewhat old-fashioned language which was spoken by late Romantic opera at the close of the 19th century.