Vanka the Steward

Tchaikovsky Research

Vanka the Steward (Ванька-ключник) [1] was the subject of a projected opera (TH 218 ; ČW 458), which Tchaikovsky considered during the last three months of 1881.

On 30 October/11 November 1881, while visiting Kiev, Tchaikovsky attended a performance of Vanka the Steward, Luka Antropov's stage version of Dmitry Averkiyev's tale Drunken Night (Хмелевая ночь). The following day, the composer told Pyotr Jurgenson that he was considering Averkiyev's story as the basis for his next opera, and asked him to try to find a printed copy of it in Moscow, adding: "I can't decide whether to make this into an opera, or to write Mazepa. The subject of Vanka the Steward is very appealing to me" [2].

After having read the play, Tchaikovsky wrote again to his publisher on 16/28 November, asking him to try to contact Averkiyev to see if he would be willing to write a libretto for the opera [3]. "Today I received a reply from Averkiyev", Jurgenson reported back on 3/15 December. "He will gladly take care of the libretto... He wanted to have your address, but because I did not have it, I told him to write to you in Rome poste restante" [4]. However, by 4/16 January 1882, Tchaikovsky had still not received the libretto. "There has been nothing whatever for me poste restante", he told Jurgenson, "And to tell the truth, I'm glad about this because I'm not disposed at the moment to think seriously about opera" [5]. Tchaikovsky soon resumed work on Mazepa, and nothing more was heard about Vanka the Steward [6].

Notes and References

  1. Entitled "Vanka the Housekeeper" in ČW.
  2. Letter 1882 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 10/22 August 1881.
  3. Letter 1894 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 16/28 November 1881.
  4. Letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 3/15 December 1881 — Klin House-Museum Archive.
  5. Letter 1926 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 4/16 January 1882.
  6. From The Tchaikovsky Handbook. A guide to the man and his music, vol. 1 (2002), p. 404.