Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky began his opera Mandragora (Мандрагора) (TH 207 ; ČW 441) in December 1869. However, only one scene — the Chorus of Flowers and Insects — was composed before he abandoned work the following month.


Nikolay Kashkin's reminiscences of Tchaikovsky contain a detailed account of the origins and initial stages of work on Mandragora, which he dated imprecisely to the autumn of 1869 or 1870. A more precise date is given in a letter from the composer himself to Modest Tchaikovsky of 13/25 January 1870. In this letter, he reported: "... I've also written a chorus of insects for the opera Mandragora, the story of which I think you know; it was done by Rachinsky. I'd made up my mind to start working on his libretto, but my friends dissuaded me, arguing that the opera was unsuited to the stage" [1].

And so Tchaikovsky did not write the opera. Nikolay Kashkin blamed himself, since after listening to the Chorus of Insects for the opera, Kashkin expressed the view that the subject would be more suited to a ballet, rather than an opera. "A protracted argument ensued", wrote Kashkin, "then suddenly I noticed that Pyotr Ilyich's expression had changed, and almost in tears he told me I had convinced him that he could not possibly write an opera on this subject, but he was so upset by this that in future he would never again tell me about his intentions" [2].


The score of the only scene to be sketched — the 'Chorus of Insects' mentioned above — is dated 27 December 1869 [O.S.]. Tchaikovsky later orchestrated this number as an independent piece, under the title Chorus of Flowers and Insects.

Modest Tchaikovsky's archive contains a letter from Sergey Rachinsky of 6/18 April 1898, in which he explained the subject of Mandragora:

A knight falls in love with a beautiful lady, who spurns his affections. A feast at the castle. A minstrel sings a ballad about the omnipotent Mandragora [3]. The knight searches in the secret forest for Mandragora. Night. Incantation. The Mandragora blossoms. The prince pulls it up from its roots—and it turns into a beautiful enchantress who, of course, immediately falls in love with him, and in the form of a page, attaches herself to his foot. However, the magic spell is cast, since in the knight's beloved jealousy is at first awakened, and then love. Finale—as a result of this reversal the unfortunate Mandragora turns back into a flower, and the lovers wed [4].

Notes and References

  1. Letter 178 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 13/25 January 1870.
  2. Nikolay Kashkin, Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1896), p. 79.
  3. The mandragora plant was traditionally reputed to have magical properties.
  4. Letter from Sergey Rachinsky to Modest Tchaikovsky, 6/18 April 1898 — Klin House-Museum Archive.