Moscow Conservatoire student Yuri Butsko's opera after Gogol's text was first performed in 1964 at his alma mater. Following the performance the commission rebuked the composer's teacher Sergei Balacanian and Butsko was forced to leave his class.
Today it is hard to say what so perturbed the professors. The opera's musical language was not radical for its time. Diary of a Madman, the first Soviet mono-drama (1963), was compared with other operas written for one performer – Schoenberg's Erwartung and Poulenc's La Voix humaine. The similarity lies only in the genre: in Diary there is neither German acidity and exhaustive overfalls of tension (Schoenberg), nor French haste and specific lightness and bitterness (Poulenc). Butsko composed very economically: irony, lyricism and despair are measured out in small doses. Gogol's text is presented in a measured system, in a songful arioso manner, only occasionally do we see the use of speech and whispering, and never a scream. This is a Russian tradition, one recalls the romances of Musorgsky and Rachmaninoff's The Miserly Knight, as well as Shostakovich's The Nose after Gogol. It is also Russian in the sense of the slow, almost stopped time (something particularly notable in Soviet chamber operas: later came Fried's Letters of Van Gogh and Butsko's White Nights). Gogol'stale can be read within twenty minutes, and the opera lasts exactly an hour, though it seems much longer.
From the text of the original, Butsko extracted all the eccentricities, devilry and play on the edge of the absurd. We are left wigh high tragedy, pure humanistic pathos, calling us to empathise: "the small man" of Russian literature is its great hero. In this sense, Diary of a Madman entirely fitted in with Soviet tradition, this was exactly how Gogolwas taught at literature classes, avoiding the surrealist layers of his texts. The music reveals the story of Poprishchin not from the point of view of a surrealist writer and not from the point of view of the protagonist – we are hearing a story, knowing in advance of the sad outcome and from the first notes feeling sorry for the misfortunate official. Neither is it by chance that the last phrase of the tale ("the Bey of Algiers has a wart under his nose) is not included in the libretto. In the finale of the opera we are left with an arioso-lament, the endless Russian road, the suffering protagonist making his way on it – and the bells ring out a prayer for him as he dies, and all together melts into eternity.