The plot of the opera was taken from the tale Aunt Lusha by contemporary Russian writer Sergei Antonov. The tale narrates the life of a commonplace Russian village soon after the end of World War II. The men have been killed at the front and only young men – boys, really – remain in the village; in my youth I saw such villages with my own eyes. The heroine of the opera, the now not-so-young Varvara (the author of the libretto Vasily Katanian and I changed her name), falls desperately in love with just such a young man who is still half a boy. The loving languor, sexual desire, the unspent maternal tenderness, secret meetings, the village love triangle (the boy has a fiancée the same age in the village), the stormy conflict and the dark and gloomy denouement is a sad finale. The village is again immersed into day-to-day tedium. The text of one of the limericks literally sums up the main idea of my opera: “Oh, mother, my mother, what should I do with my love? Scatter it in the field or bury it in the earth?” <…>
The premiere of my opera Not Love Alone took place at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 25 December 1961. The production resulted in severe irritation from the bosses in charge of culture – the openly Freudian motifs together with the monumental patriotic processions of other Soviet operas, red banners and glorification proved to be too much of a challenging contrast. The planned next four performances were replaced with Verdi’s La traviata, and it was only two months later that the opera was shown to the public another three times after which it quietly and ingloriously vanished from the repertoire.
Shchedrin’s very first opera Not Love Alone (1961) was his last to be staged at the Mariinsky Theatre. It was a somewhat unexpected production. The risky plot about a Soviet village in the 1950s, where kolkhozniki (collective farmers) discuss the sowing, play the goat, go to parties and observe the mental drama faced by the collective farm’s chairwoman who unexpectedly falls in love with the young urban chap has been treated by stage director Alexander Kuzin with psychological veracity, refining the look, speech and gestures of the fifty-or-so young singers of the Academy, and his tremendous experience in drama theatre may also be observed. And yet the vivid, unusually coloured costumes by Irina Cherednikova underscore the fact that this is not village prose, not Brothers and Sisters, but rather an opera by the young Shchedrin where the libretto essentially consists of ditties. Their irony, glibness and passion set the tone for the work. The passions of a grand opera, the heroine of which appears in the form of Varvara Vasilievna and the musical heir to the schismatics Marfa and Katerina Ismailova come together with operetta, the language of which is spoken by her counterpart – the vaudeville dandy Volodya. In one act there is the concerto-skit of the homespun village ensemble in dances, and in the other there is the furious monologue of the heroine about her hopes and the impossibility of happiness where Varvara, like the tormenting Furies, stings the unseen chorus, repeating “No, no, no!” In the choral epilogue there is a photo for eternity, the entire village standing as if for a school photo, the chairwoman in the centre. This composition with an “under the tongue” ditty says more about Shchedrin’s contemporaries than any research into gender problems of a post-war village.