Opera in two acts
Conductor: Jan Latham-Koenig
Conductor: Valery Kritskov
Stage Director: Igor Ushakov
Set Designer: Timofey Ermolin
Costume Designer (Choir): Svetlana Grischenkova
Choirmaster: Yulia Senyukova
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission
Premiered on 7 June 2019
Sung in English with Russian surtitles
The Novaya Opera presents the premiere of the opera Pushkin, which tells the story of two dominant men the nation’s Poet and the nation’s Tsar. A relationship that starts with mutual admiration and mutual need. The authors of the opera, librettist Marita Phillips and composer Konstantin Boyarsky, live and work in Great Britain, but have close bonds with Russian culture.
Violist, violinist and composer Konstantin Boyarsky was born and spent his childhood in Russia. He attended the Music School affiliated to the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory where he studied with Professor Inna Gauhman. At present Konstantin is working in London as one of the Principal Violists of the Royal Opera House and also does a lot of composing. He has a number of instrumental compositions and arrangements for viola and other instruments as well as two ballets, Sleepers and Children of War, and the opera Pushkin. In 2010, Konstantin was named "UK's Best Young Classical Composer" by the international web-magazine www.suite101.com. Marita Phillips is a great-great-great-granddaughter of the three main characters of the opera: Alexander Pushkin, his wife Natalya and Tsar Nicolas I. Marita trained in acting and ballet before performing a one-woman show worldwide. She founded the London Mime Centre with Adam Darius. She was Chairman of the British Pushkin Bicentennial Committee which was involved in over 200 events in the UK in 1999. She wrote the children’s novel The Dream Dealer and writes lyrics for songs and musicals.
Marita Phillips — Librettist:
The creation of the opera has been a personal journey. I was born a direct descendent of Russia’s greatest poet. Yet it was not until I grew up that I discovered the depth of adoration that Russians feel for Pushkin — quite unlike a British person’s relationship to Shakespeare. I needed to understand why.
The challenge was how to dramatise a writer’s life, who lived 200 years ago, in another country, and make it relevant. Like most geniuses (not a word to be used lightly) Pushkin’s personal weaknesses and flaws stood in stark contrast to the profound understanding and compassion for human nature and the human condition expressed in his writings. I came to believe that Pushkin’s death was not just a tragic mishap — it was more a death-wish. Nicholas I was not an evil dictator. Natalya Goncharova was not merely an empty-headed beauty. “Society” then was no worse than the thoughtless “tweeters” of today. Yet a series of events, choices, characters, circumstances drove Pushkin to a place where life became untenable; a place in himself where he could no longer write. Without a channel of expression the artist may as well be “dead”.
Pushkin represents the eternal creative: often at odds with authority, self-destructive, melancholic, yet possessing an unconscious which, regardless of life on the surface, sifts and hones thoughts, feelings, experiences to produce jewels of glittering purity, humour and truth. Pushkin could never go against the gods and the demons within himself. They, after all, had to express their own truth — through him. It is that integrity, combined with his exceptional gift, that ensures he remains as alive today as ever.
The journey of this libretto has been a rich experience for me with many twists and turns, finally emerging as this opera, given life by the music of Konstantin Boyarsky.
This happy partnership has created wonderful cross-cultural links between our two countries: Russian composer, British librettist. Konstantin Boyarsky is principal violist in London’s Royal Opera House. Jan Latham-Koenig is British conductor at Moscow’s Novaya Opera. Sung in English and premiered in Pushkin’s country. I am both thrilled and apprehensive. Can I, with Russian blood, but nurtured in England, ever comprehend fully the unique place that Pushkin holds in this nation’s heart?
Konstantin Boyarsky — Composer:
The idea of the opera "Pushkin" leaped into my mind when, in the winter of 2012, Jan Latham-Koenig introduced me to Marita Phillips, and she asked me to read her libretto. Everything related to the work of Pushkin, my favourite poet, has always been and will always be sacred to me.
I recall my childhood years in Russia until the age of 13 — they left very profound, immense memories. I have not been to my native country for a great many years, but it does not really matter where a Russian soul lives — I always miss Russia, Moscow, the Caucasus, where I was born, and these feelings are often reflected in my music. Some may be surprised at the lyrical tonality of the opera or, occasionally, its romantic style. I did not seek to create an ultramodern piece with surprisingly innovative sonority and effects; when writing the opera, I thought about and pictured to myself only its characters, their emotions and life.
I’d also like to explain the fact why the opera is sung in English. The point is that Marita Phillips is not only a great-great-great-granddaughter of Alexander Pushkin, but also a very talented playwright. As I read her libretto, I was amazed at her beautiful and musical use of the English language. I agreed with her that the dialogues would be in English, while quotes from Pushkin’s poems, naturally, in Russian. It’s known that Pushkin learnt English and read Byron in the original.