The Lefthander (opera in two acts)
Performed in Russian (with synchronised English supertitles )
Premiere of this production: 27 Jul 2014
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Levsha ("The Lefthander") is an opera (2013) by Rodion Shchedrin based on a story by the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Leskov.
World premiere of the concert performance on 26 June 2013 and world stage premiere on 27 July 2013. Twice Grammy Award winner ("The best essay in contemporary academic music" 1997 and "The best work of contemporary composer of classical music" 2009) Rodion Shchedrin is a master of orchestration, combinations of sound, orchestral colors and sudden effects.
The opera was commissioned by the Mariinsky Theatre and composed by Rodion Shchedrin to Maestro Gergiev’s 60th birthday.
The composer speaks about his work:
Leskov’s tale is an incredibly rich literary source for an opera plot. The plot of the tale itself is a grotesque exaggeration. What is it? Is it a Biblical parable, a farcical fairground myth, or an epic tale? The characters are vivid, luscious and contrasting. The Russian Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I, the Winter Palace, the British Court — a buffonade and a tragedy. Laughter through tears... But if you look a little deeper then you can clearly see the artistic contradistinctions of two kinds of life — the rational British and the irrational Russian.
And, finally, there is the protagonist. The cross-eyed illiterate artisan with “golden hands” from Tula. He is a condensed representation, I believe, of the most important and the most typical features of the Russian national character — innate talent, wit, self irony, indifference to human life and a pernicious love of alcohol. And the eternal Russian theme of power and the common man. The lack of need for genius in one’s own country.
Levsha ("The Lefthander"), opera in 2 acts. Libretto by the composer after the novel by Nikolai Leskov. Concert performance on 26 June, and world stage premiere on 27 July 2013 at the Mariinsky II in St Petersburg, conducted by Valery Gergiev.
Shchedrin’s music occupies a special position in the theatre’s repertoire.
In The Lefthander, the composer has once again turned to the works of his beloved author Nikolai Leskov. Following The Sealed Angel and The Enchanted Wanderer, The Lefthander will be Shchedrin’s third opera after a tale by Leskov. As the composer says, “Lefty is Nikolai Leskov’s most famous novella. In Russia everyone knows it. Lefty is incredibly rich material for an opera plot. The actual tale in the novella is a grotesque exaggeration. What is it? a Biblical parable, a farcical fairground myth or an epic tale? The characters are vivid, luscious and contrasting. There are the Russian Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I, the Winter Palace and the British Royal Court. It is a buffonade and a tragedy. Laughter through tears... And if you look somewhat deeper then you can plainly see the artistic contrast of two ways of life – the rational British and the irrational Russian.”
Valery Gergiev has stressed more than once that the premiere of The Lefthander is a key event of this year’s theatre season and the Stars of the White Nights festival: “This is a tremendous event for all Russian music. The opera is totally amazing – both in terms of its orchestral colours and in the precision of the characteristics of the soloists; it has been written for very powerful vocal and orchestral resources.”
"Leskov’s tale is an incredibly rich literary source for an opera plot. The plot of the tale itself is a grotesque exaggeration. What is it? Is it a Biblical parable, a farcical fairground myth, an epic tale? The characters are vivid, luscious and contrasting. The Russian Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas II, the Winter Palace, the British Court. A buffonade and a tragedy. Laughter through tears... But if you look a little deeper then you can clearly see the artistic contradistinctions of two kinds of life – the rational British and the irrational Russian.And, finally, there is the protagonist. The cross-eyed illiterate artisan with “golden hands” from Tula. He is a condensed representation, I believe, of the most important and the most typical features of the Russian national character – innate talent, wit, self irony, indifference to human life and a pernicious love of alcohol. And the eternal Russian theme of power and the common man. The lack of need for genius in one’s own country...This full-length two-act opera was composed for the opening of the new stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg (Mariinsky-II). Valery Gergiev, who turned sixty this year, is the musical director. My score is dedicated to him. "
Tsar Alexander I of Russia, while visiting England with his servant the Cossack Platov, is shown a variety of modern inventions. Platov keeps insisting that things in Russia are much better (embarrassing a guide at one point when he finds something that appears well made that turns out to be a Russian gun), until they are shown a small mechanical flea. After his ascension the next tsar, Nicolas I, orders Platov (after he tries to hide the flea) to find someone to outperform the English who had created the clockwork steel flea (as small as a crumb, and the key to wind it up can only be seen through a microscope). Platov travels to Tula to find someone to better the English invention. Three gunsmiths agree to do the work and barricade themselves in a workshop. Villagers try to get them to come out in various ways (for example by yelling "fire"), but no one can get them to come out. When Platov arrives to check on their progress, he has some Cossacks try to open the workshop. They succeed in getting the roof to come off, but the crowd is disgusted when the trapped smell of body odor and metal work comes out of the workshop. The gunsmiths hand Platov the same flea he gave them and he curses them, believing that they have done absolutely nothing. He ends up dragging Lefty with him in order to have someone to answer for the failure.
The flea is given to the czar, to whom Lefty explains that he needs to look closer and closer at the flea to see what they have achieved. He winds it up and finds that it doesn't move. He discovers that, without any microscopes ("We are poor people"), Lefty and his accomplices managed to put appropriately sized horseshoes (with the craftsmen's engraved signatures) on the flea (Lefty made the nails, which cannot be seen since they are so small), which amazes the Tsar and the English (even though the flea now cannot dance as it used to). Lefty then gets an invitation and travels to England to study the English way of life and technical accomplishments. The English hosts try to talk him into staying in England, but he feels homesick and returns to Russia at the earliest opportunity. On the way back, he engages in a drinking duel with an English sailor, arriving in Saint Petersburg. The sailor is treated well, but the authorities finding no identification on Lefty and believing him to be a common drunkard, send him off to die in a hospital for unknowns.
The sailor, after sobering up, decides to find his new friend, and with the aid of Platov they locate him. While dying (his head is smashed from being thrown onto the pavement), he tells them to tell the Emperor to stop having his soldiers clean their muskets with crushed brick (after he sees a dirty gun in England and realizes it fires so well because they keep it oily). The message never arrives, however, because the man who had to inform the Emperor never does. Leskov comments that the Crimean War might have turned out differently if the message had been delivered. The story ends with Leskov commenting on the replacement of good, hard-earned labor and creativity with machines.
This story is deeply embedded into Russian consciousness as an archetype of relationships between Russia and the West. The language of the story is unique; many of its folk-flavored neologisms and colloquialisms (very funny and natural, though mostly invented by Leskov) have become common sayings and proverbs. Ironically, both Slavophiles and Westernizers used the story in support of their views; indeed the story of Levsha may signify Russian ingenuity and craftsmanship that amaze the world, or it may just as well be used as a symbol of the oppressive Russian society that mistreats its most talented people.
1 Theatre Square
Mariinsky-2 (New Theatre):
34 Dekabristov Street
Mariinsky Concert Hall:
20 Pisareva street