Libretto by Boris Kochno after Pushkin's story `The Little House in Kolomna' (R,E,F,G,I,S)
3(III=picc).2.corA.2.Ebcl.2-188.8.131.52-timp-strings(2vln.1vla.full complement of vlc and db)
Version arranged for chamber ensemble by Paul Phillips:
fl(=picc).Ebcl(=Bbcl & Acl).Acl(=bcl)-pft-vln.db
Version arranged for chamber ensemble by Winfried Radeke:
Parasha, a young girl, is busy at the window of her mother’s house in the suburbs of St Petersburg, when her suitor Vassily, a rakish hussar, arrives in the street outside, burning with importunate desire. Parasha agrees to meet him the next day. Parasha’s mother enters the room, complaining that they no longer have a reliable maid to look after them. She sends Parasha out to see if she can find someone cheap. Parasha soon returns with a new ‘maid’ she has engaged... in fact it is the hussar dressed in women’s clothes. He introduces himself as ‘Mavra’ and promises to serve well and for little money. Once on their own, ‘Mavra’ and Parasha fall into one another’s arms. All progresses well with this affair until Parasha’s mother unexpectedly walks into the kitchen and finds ‘Mavra’ shaving. When she faints from shock and fear, ‘Mavra’-Vassily seizes the moment, leaps out of the window and runs away, leaving the unfortunate Parasha behind.
This intimate opera buffa for Diaghilev takes place in a middle class home situated in a small Russian town, ca. 1840. Parasha, in love with Basil, contrives to have Basil engaged as the family cook. He flees through a window when discovered shaving his beard. Stravinsky conceived Mavra as an homage to Pushkin, Glinka, and Tchaikovsky, all of whom elegantly "united the most characteristically Russian elements with the spiritual riches of the West." Including two arias, a duet, and a quartet, the score invokes Russo-Italian operatic conventions. This affectionate impulse does not, however, preclude a mordant satire on bourgeois manners. The love duet, with its fervent endearments and symphonic ejaculations, is a hilarious parody of the Romeo-and-Juliet genre.
Repertoire note by Joseph Horowitz
The première in Paris in 1922 of Mavra was Stravinsky’s first great flop. Even today Mavra remains among the less frequently played works of Stravinsky, which is a shame, because not only is it his first genuinely neoclassical work, but it is also a gem of witty story-telling. This short opera buffa, to a libretto by Boris Kochno after a narrative poem of Pushkin, is dedicated to the memory of Pushkin, Glinka and Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky joyfully evokes the spirit of Tchaikovsky, in his directness and spontaneity, as well as his melodic fluency. The story of the opera is frivolous but is in essence a satire of petit-bourgeois manners. A handsome hussar Vasili disguises himself as a female cook in order to have an assignation with his young lover Parasha, but he is caught out when Parasha’s mother finds ‘her’ shaving. Stravinsky’s music for Mavra is an extraordinary mix of styles, including loving parodies of Glinka and Tchaikovsky, alongside a popular polka and waltz and echoes of jazz. Mavra would form an attractive double-bill with another one-act comic opera , such as Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi or Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole, or even a short comic opera by Offenbach.
Repertoire note by Jonathan Cross