Grand Hall of the Leningrad State Philharmonic, Leningrad
Moscow Chamber Theatre / Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky
World stage premiere6/12/1983
Wuppertal Oper / Tristan Schick
First act of unfinished opera based on Gogol’s comedy The Gamblers, for six male solo voices and large orchestra:
All his life, Shostakovich dreamt of writing another full-length opera to follow ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk district’. In the early part of World War ll, he thought he had founded the text he wanted, Gogol’s satirical comedy about a sinister group of card-sharps and the elaborately ingenious trick by which they swindle another card-sharp.
He determined to set every word of Gogol’s text. But by the time he got near the end of the first act, he realised that his opera was going to be far too long. He must also have realised that the savagely mocking text and the bitter laughter of the music he had written would never be allowed to be performed in the extremely repressive cultural climate of the time. So he abandoned the project.
What survives is what would have been Act l, a dark and bitter drama of a group of low-life characters all fiendishly determined to outwit one another, and hell-bent on destruction. This surviving fragment has been successfully staged, but it also makes a shocking and powerful concert item, a fascinating glimpse into Shostakovich’s mind in the period between the writing of the 7th and 8th Symphonies.
Note by Gerard McBurney