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The Soviet opera project: Ivan Dzerzhinsky vs. Ivan Susanin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2007


The subject of this article is the failure of the Stalinist Soviet opera project. Although similar proposals had appeared years before, the project was inaugurated in 1936, and its realisation was placed in the hands of the State Committee for Artistic Affairs. The archival materials discussed in the article (including transcripts of the Committee's meetings) demonstrate that even publicly acclaimed productions were seen as failures by these senior bureaucrats. On the one hand, there were demands for realism and contemporary topics, and on the other, for monumentality and elevated musical language; these demands proved to be in deep conflict with each other. In addition to this crippling problem, it soon became apparent that any treatment of a contemporary topic was bound to become unacceptable before long, given the ever-shifting political landscape. While novels and films were certainly under close scrutiny, many operas were subjected to so many demands for revision that they never saw production at all. The article's central claim is that the 1939 Soviet reworking of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar as Ivan Susanin fulfilled the state's needs much better than any newly created Soviet opera could have, resulting in the effective curtailment of the project by 1946.

Research Article
2006 Cambridge University Press

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