Dobrynya Nikitich

Dobrynya Nikitich (Добрыня Никитич) (ČW 453) [1], was an epic Russian folk tale which in December 1876 Tchaikovsky considered as the basis for an opera. The hero himself, Dobrynya Nikitich, was a medieval Ukrainian knight, who in folklore accomplishes many heroic deeds, such as slaying dragons, rescuing imprisoned maidens, etc.

The subject was suggested by Vasily Avenarius, a Russian dramatist and writer of children's literature, with whom Tchaikovsky had become acquainted in Moscow during the 1870s. A manuscript copy of Avenarius's libretto, showing the action taking place over four acts in the setting of ancient Kiev, is preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive [2].

Writing to Avenarius on 8/20 December 1876, Tchaikovsky's reply was positive but non-committal: I will tell you my opinion of this work completely candidly. In literary terms it seems to me excellent. The spirit of hoary antiquity, the naive simplicity of the knightly epoch, the poetry and character of the language — all of this is sustained and conveyed to the highest degree of artistry. From a purely theatrical point of view it seems to me there is a lack of movement and dramatic interest." [3]. Although he undertook at some future date to do his best to write the music, Tchaikovsky pleaded that his thoughts were currently directed to another subject from which he could not tear himself away, and only after this had been completed could he consider his next opera.

There are no other references to Dobrynya Nikitich in the composer's archive.

Notes and References

  1. Not included in TH.
  2. Reference (a6, No. 28).
  3. Letter 519 to Vasily Avenarius, 8/20 December 1876.