RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Christmas Eve

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Christmas

Composer

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (March 1844 - June 1908)

Composed In

1895

Duration

130 minutes

Instrumentation

Voices: mixed chorus (SATB) (ad lib.) Orchestra: 3 flutes/piccolo, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (B♭, A)/piccolo clarinet (D), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (F), 3 trumpets (B♭, A), 3 trombones, tuba + timpani, percussion + celesta + harp, strings

Summary

Christmas Eve is an opera in four acts with music and libretto by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera on a short story, "Christmas Eve", from Nikolai Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. The story had been used as the basis for an opera at least three times previously, including for Tchaikovsky's Vakula the Smith (1874).

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About the Composition

Roles

Tsaritsa (mezzo-soprano), Village-head (baritone), Chub, an elderly Cossack (bass), Oksana, his daughter (soprano), Solokha, a widow, and by rumor, a witch (contralto), Vakula the smith, her son (tenor), Panas, a crony of Chub (bass), Deacon Osip Nikiforovich (tenor), Patsyuk, an old Zaporozhets, a sorcerer (bass), Devil(tenor)

Chorus, silent roles: Lasses, lads, Cossacks of Dikanka. Witches, wizards, evil and good spirits. The figures of Kolyada and Ovsen. The morning star (Venus) and other stars. Court gentlemen and ladies. Lackeys

1. Tableau 1 – Christmas Eve in the hamlet of Dikanka: The widow Solokha agrees to help the Devil steal the moon. The Devil is annoyed with Solokha’s son, Vakula, who painted an icon mocking him. To prevent Vakula from seeing his beloved Oksana, the Devil decides to create a snowstorm. Amidst the raging storm, Deacon and Oksana’s father, Chub, are unable to find their way, while Solokha rides up to the sky and steals the moon.

2. Tableau 2 – Interior of Chub’s house: Alone, Oksana is lonely at home. She passes through several moods and the music follows her with gradually accelerating tempos. At one point, Vakula watches her admiring herself when he enters. She replies that she will only marry him if he brings her a pair of the Empress’s slippers when he says he loves her. Chub emerges from the storm, and Vakula, not recognizing him and taking him for a rival, chases him out by striking him. Seeing what he has done, Oksana sends Vakula away in a miserable state. Young people from the village gather around and sing Ukrainian Christmas carols. Oksana realizes she still loves Vakula.

Act 2:

3. Tableau 3 – Solokha’s house: The Devil is getting cosy and comfortable at Solokha’s hut. When in succession the mayor, the priest and Chub arrive to seduce her, they hide in a sack when the next arrives. Vakula drags the four heavy sacks to his smithy (also blacksmith’s workshop).

4. Tableau 4 -Vakula’s smithy: Vakula puts down his sacks. Young men and women, including Oksana, gather singing Kolyadki and having fun. However, Vakula feels dejected. Oksana taunts Vakula one last time about the Tsaritsa’s slippers. Vakula gives his farewell to the lads and to Oksana, exclaiming that he will perhaps meet them in another world. He leaves the sacks, from which the four men emerge.

Act 3:

5. Tableau 5 – Inside Patsyuk’s house: Patsyuk makes magic vareniki jump into his mouth. Vakula has come to request assistance from him and Patsyuk advises him that he must go to the Devil in order to obtain the help of the Devil. The Devil jumps out from the sack when Vakula puts it down and tries to get his soul in exchange for Oksana. Vakula, however, grabs him by his neck and climbs on his back. The Devil is forced to fly him to St. Petersburg.

6. Tableau 6 – Space. Moon and stars: The charming “Games and Dances of the Stars”, is followed by the “Diabolical Kolyadka” in which Patsyuk, riding a mortar, and Solokha, on her broom, attempt to stop Vakula. He succeeds, however, in getting through, and the lights of St. Petersburg become visible through the clouds.

7. Tableau 7 – A palace. A sumptuous room, brightly lit: The Devil puts down Vakula in the Tsaritsa’s court and disappears into the fireplace. Vakula joins a group of Zaporozhian Cossacks and a chorus sings the Tsaritsa’s praises in a magnificent polonaise. The Tsaritsa addresses the Cossacks. Vakula requests the Tsaritsa’s boots to the music of a minuet. His wish is granted due to its unusual and amusing nature. The Devil takes Vakula away as Russian and Cossack dances commence.

8. Tableau 8 – Space. Night: Vakula returns home on the Devil’s back. We witness the procession of Kolyada (young girl in a carriage) and Ovsen (boy on a boar’s back). We hear church bells and a choir while approaching Dikanka.

Act 4:

9. Tableau 9 – Christmas Day. Courtyard beside Chub’s house: Oksana listens to some women exchanging gossip about Vakula, who is believed to have committed suicide. Oksana sings an aria expressing her regret that she had treated Vakula harshly, and wishing for his return. He appears with the boots, followed by Chub. Vakula asks Chub for Oksana’s hand in marriage and Chub assents. Vakula and Oksana sing a duet. Other characters enter and ask Vakula about his disappearance.
10. Epilogue – In memory of Gogol: Vakula announces that he will relate his story to the one that will write a story of Christmas Eve, the beekeeper Panko the Gingerhead. There is general rejoicing.

Rimsky-Korsakov

Fun Facts about the Composer

  • Rimsky-Korsakov originally wanted a career in the Russian navy and attended the Naval Academy. He actively served the navy for years.
  • Rimsky-Korsakov had perfect pitch.
  • As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov did not enjoy his music lessons that much. He preferred to read a good book instead.
  • All of the notes in Rimsky-Korsakov’s manuscript scores slant evenly to the right, making him the only composer to write music entirely in italics.
  • Although Rimsky-Korsakov had little formal musical training, he was appointed as professor of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

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