Letter 3550

Tchaikovsky Research
Date between 20 April/2 May and 23 April/5 May 1888 [1]
Addressed to Ippolit Shpazhinsky
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Fragment in Klin (Russia): Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve (a3, No. 464)
Publication Чайковский в московских театрах (1940), p. 453–454 (partial)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XIV (1974), p. 410–411 (partial)

Text and Translation

The opening of this letter has not survived.

Russian text
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
[...] я, конечно, вновь упомяну о цензурных затруднениях, но, что касается Екатерины, то вряд ли это будет возможно. Разделение на пять актов мне очень не по нутру. Но, впрочем, отложим разговор об этом до личного свидания.

Касательно «Чародейки», скажу Вам, что безусловно отказываюсь от каких бы то ни было переделок. Достаточно я себя терзал осенними переделками и совершенно убеждён, что сколько ни переделывай, только хуже будет. Не нам с Вами унижаться до непонимания публики, а пустька они слушают как следует. Я считаю «Чародейку» лучшей своей оперой и ни от одной ноты не отказываюсь. Если мы с Вами кое-где и сделали может быть ошибки, то где же их нет? И в самой гениальной опере найдутся недостатки. Да, впрочем, дело не в этом, а в том, что я в настоящее время совершенно неспособен без боли в сердце и без злобы относиться к неудаче, согреться вновь сюжетом не могу, и если переделки даже и в самом деле нужны, то заняться ими могу лишь через несколько лет.

Что касается распределения ролей, то, во 1-х, я при московской постановке не буду, ибо опять-таки не намерен растравлять свои раны; отнять роль от Павловской тоЖе не могу, ибокакова она ни есть, но оскорблять её не хочу, ибо много ей обязан в прошедшем.

Вообще никакого вмешательства в московскую постановку иметь не буду; хотят ставить — пусть ставят без меня, а не захотят — так мне совершенно все равно.

До свидания, голубчик! Желаю успеха «Курагиной» от всей души.

Ваш, П. Чайковский

[...] of course, I will again mention the censorship difficulties, but as far as Catherine is concerned, that will hardly be feasible. Your division into five acts is also not to my liking. But, anyway, let us defer a discussion of this until we meet face to face [2].

With regard to "The Enchantress", I must tell you that I categorically refuse to make any modifications whatsoever [3]. I tormented myself quite enough with the modifications I made last autumn, and I am fully convinced that no matter how much I modify it, it will just get worse. It does not behove you or me to abase ourselves to the public's level of incomprehension — no, let them listen to it properly. I consider "The Enchantress" to be my best opera and will not retract a single note. If you and I have perhaps made mistakes here and there, well, which works are free from those?! Even in the greatest of operas it is possible to find flaws. Anyway, that's not the point, though. The point is that at the present moment I am quite incapable of addressing this failure without feeling pain in my heart and anger; I cannot warm to the subject again, and even if modifications should indeed prove to be necessary, I could only devote myself to them after some years have passed.

As for the allocation of the roles, firstly, I am not going to attend the Moscow production, because, again, I have no wish to rub salt in my wounds; nor can I take Pavlovskaya's role away from her, because, regardless of what she is like in it, I do not want to offend her, as I am obliged to her for a lot of things in the past [4].

In general, I shall not intervene in the Moscow production in any way. If they want to stage my opera, let them stage it without me; and if they don't want to, then I couldn't care less.

Goodbye, golubchik. From the bottom of my heart I wish that "Kuragina" is successful [5].

Yours, P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. In the publication of this letter in Чайковский в московских театрах (1940), p. 453–454, Vasily Kiselev gives 11/23 April 1888 as the earliest date that it could have been written, because it is a reply to Ippolit Shpazhinsky's letter of 11/23 April 1888 (also published in the same book, p. 452–453). Both men were in Moscow at the time, so Tchaikovsky could certainly have received Shpazhinsky's letter on the same day that it was sent.
  2. This paragraph (of which we have only the latter part) refers to Tchaikovsky's projected opera The Captain's Daughter, based on Pushkin's historical novel about the infamous Pugachev Rebellion during the reign of Catherine the Great. Shpazhinsky was very keen to write the libretto for this opera, but in his letter to Tchaikovsky of 11/23 April 1888 he pointed out that "the draft scenario would have to be approved by the authorities, which, given your contacts in Petersburg, should not be too difficult to organize. The censorship on its own would never allow Pugachev on the stage, but in my scenario he appears in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th acts. As for Catherine [the Great], it is the same of course [the censorship in Russia did not allow members of the imperial dynasty to be shown on the stage], yet she is essential for the final scene".
  3. In his letter of 11/23 April 1888 Shpazhinsky informed Tchaikovsky that The Enchantress, which very soon after its premiere at the Saint Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre on 20 October/1 November 1887 had proved to be a failure with the public and with some critics, would be performed two more times at the Mariinsky in the coming 1888/89 season before the stage sets were sent to Moscow where it was to be mounted at the Bolshoi Theatre. Shpazhinsky added: "The [Theatres'] Directorate would like you to make some corrections to the opera, chiefly in the second half of Act III".
  4. The failure of The Enchantress had been largely due to Emiliya Pavlovskaya's poor performance as the heroine Nastasya: by the time of the premiere she had lost much of her voice. Pavlovskaya had been transferred to the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre for the 1888/89 season, and in his letter to Tchaikovsky of 11/23 April 1888 Shpazhinsky urged the composer to ensure that the role of Nastasya in the Moscow production of The Enchantress went not to Pavlovskaya, but to the younger soprano Mariya Klimentova. The Enchantress was not in fact staged at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre until 2/14 February 1890, and on that occasion Nastasya was sung by M. P. Korovina — note based on information provided by Vasily Kiselev in Чайковский в московских театрах (1940), p. 454.
  5. Shpazhinsky's drama Princess Kuragina was first performed at the Moscow Maly Theatre on 15/27 November 1887. He had subsequently revised the play, and the new version was going to be staged soon.