Professor Sinelnikov – oceanographer

Zoya – the professor’s daughter and assistant

Nastenka – geologist, participant in the expedition

Olga Atamanenko – navigator

Kostik – biologist, graduate student

Mark – marine geologist, graduate student

Andrei – hydrologist, graduate student


Act I

Scene 1

A dormitory. The room of three graduate students, inseparable friends. Geographical maps and large images of marine fauna hang on the walls. The youngest of the friends, the biologist Kostik, is at the table writing a letter. He addresses the envelope: “To Navigator Atamanenko.” There is a knock at the door. […] Kostik hastily conceals the letter: it is hard to keep a secret from his friends, but he doesn’t have nerve enough to tell them the truth. Kostik’s friend Zoya—daughter of and assistant to the oceanographer, Professor Sinelnikov—enters. She informs Kostik that her father has been appointed leader of an expedition to the Sea of Okhotsk. […]

At Kostik’s request, Zoya has spoken with her father about the participation of his friends in the expedition and the professor wants to meet them. […] The Professor has decided to perform their assessment at home. They are not to be told about his appointment (all the more so since no one else knows about it yet). They will come to pay a visit to Zoya, during which the professor will make an entrance as if by accident, and will make their acquaintance. So... he is not to say a word to his friends.

Mark and Andrei appear. Zoya remembers Andrei, he once declaimed poetry wonderfully at a student function. […] She invites Andrei and Mark to call on her, along with Kostik. […]

When Zoya and Kostik leave to arrange the time of their meeting with the professor, Andrei complains to Mark about Kostik (Andrei’s arioso). In his opinion, Kostik is hopelessly in love. […] If the friends don’t take steps, he will marry this girl and be lost to science and friendship. Andrei outlines to Mark his rescue plan for the younger friend under their wing: […] he will undertake the courtship of Zoya, to draw her away from Kostik, while Mark will play the role of an unhappily married man who repents his rash act so as to dampen Kostik’s desire to wed. Tomorrow a girl will arrive who has agreed to assume the role of Mark’s wife. Several times recently Andrei has seen envelopes addressed by Kostik to navigator Atamanenko. When he asked him who the navigator was, Kostik said it is his new friend who has a direct connection with the expedition. While Mark was out of town, Andrei […] decided to consult with the navigator. […] Andrei outlined his plan to the navigator. Atamanenko approved the plan and even promised his help: his lady friend is travelling to Leningrad and will be able to play the role of Mark’s wife. […] Mark reluctantly agrees to this: although he is genuinely against premature wedlock, he doesn’t want to turn matrimony into a comedy.

The friends remember Zoya’s invitation. At first—to spite Kostik—they decide not to go. […] But it dawns on them in an instant that this offers yet another opportunity to prevent their friend’s marriage. They will be able to present themselves and Kostik to the professor in such an unappealing light that he will try to get rid of them and his daughter’s “suitor” swiftly.

Upon Kostik’s return, Andrei informs him of Mark’s marriage. Kostik congratulates his friend heartily, but it transpires that the marriage is a failure. Mark is morose. In order to cheer him up, Kostik tells a yarn about three drunks. […] The yarn falls flat and—following established tradition—Kostik is sentenced under the table for his lame joke. (Trio).

Scene 2

The apartment of Professor Sinelnikov.

Zoya and her father before the arrival of the friends. In love with his profession, Sinelnikov rejoices in the approach of the expedition. […] How much the seabed has to tell us about the history of the earth! […] Its expanses invite more and more new Soviet scientists, representatives of the most progressive science in the world. […]

Kostik, Mark and Andrei arrive. When the professor is left alone with Mark and Andrei, following the script the two playact as confirmed drunks, implicating Kostik as a devotee of this pastime, an insatiable heartbreaker, as well as someone who suffers from strange fits connected with stress while playing chess. Dispirited at heart by their playacting, they really do make a poor impression on the bewildered professor, who has barely seen them out the door before he agitatedly declares to Zoya […] that on his expedition he doesn’t need drunks, Don Juans and epileptic chess players.

Act II

Scene 3

The room in the dormitory. Morning. The friends are asleep. Nastenka—who is to play the role of Mark’s wife for Kostik’s benefit—arrives. After a series of comic incidents, with a cheerful song she sets about cleaning the friends’ room, making it completely unrecognisable. [...]

When Mark and Nastenka are left alone, he scolds her for revealing to Kostik the positive sides of matrimony instead of the negative ones. Nastenka believes that man’s happiness resides in the family, a family helps him in life and work. Mark is astonished: if she adheres to such views, why did she embark on the subterfuge by supporting them? Nastenka explains that she did it, just as they did, for the sake of their comrade, for the sake of Atamanenko.

Andrei rushes in with a newspaper. Professor Sinelnikov, in whose presence they behaved in such a foolish fashion, has been appointed the leader of the expedition. The friends’ despair and grief. Andrei decides to write about everything to navigator Atamanenko. But will he help them anew in their misfortune, indeed all their hopes to participate in the expedition have collapsed.

Scene 4

The professor’s dacha on the outskirts of Leningrad. Zoya’s birthday. On an illuminated terrace young people are dancing a waltz. Among those dancing are Andrei with Zoya, and Mark with Nastenka. In the process of implementing their plan to rescue Kostik, Mark and Andrei haven’t noticed that they themselves have fallen in love.

Zoya and Andrei remain alone on the deserted terrace. […] Zoya is sad: her father is against her meetings with Andrei. Can it be that Andrei won’t be coming along with them? Once again she begs her father to take the friends, “at least one of them.” Understanding the cause of her persistent requests, and loving his daughter dearly, the professor decides to try to talk with the friends once again, all the more so since all of them are present at Zoya’s party. A comic scene takes place between the professor and Kostik from which it emerges that all of Mark and Andrei’s tales about themselves, as well as about Kostik, are fiction.

Without revealing the true motives behind their behaviour, the dejected Mark asks the professor to forgive them and take—if not himself—then his comrades on the expedition. The professor scolds Mark: science in their native country badly needs the study of the ocean depths, marine fauna, the sea bottom, but by engaging in ridiculous, incomprehensible antics, they have deprived him of the workers he needs, and themselves of the possibility to take part in the expedition. At this point there is nothing he can do. All the spots have been taken.

Mark suffers: having done everything they did for the sake of the expedition, the friends end up responsible for wrecking their dream. Nastenka, whom Mark is beginning to like, decides after an internal struggle to abandon her own participation in the expedition, promising Mark she will ask the professor to take him instead of her. […] The scene once again is filled with young people greeting Zoya on her birthday. A jolly Russian dance begins.


Scene 5

One of the Leningrad railway stations. Awaiting the arrival of a train, Zoya and Nastenka, who have come to meet navigator Atamanenko, each reflect on their love. […] Zoya is pleased that her father seems to relate better to Andrei, though it’s hardly likely he will take the friends along with him. Can it be that Andrei won’t be with her to experience the joy of discovery […] Nastenka herself doesn’t know when the game ended for her and genuine feeling took over. What will she tell navigator Atamanenko now? And Mark might think that she was angling for herself from the very outset.

Mark and Andrei are also at the station. They await the navigator and his answer regarding the expedition with impatience. Their talk turns from the expedition to love. […] They are in love, perhaps will soon wed, but it is their fault that poor Kostik […] will remain alone. They decide to confess everything to Kostik and stop the subterfuge.

The train approaches. Nastenka leads a woman in a naval uniform out of the crowd and introduces the navigator—the young Olga Atamanenko—to the flabbergasted friends. […] After the initial greetings, the energetic Olga produces a notepad and dictates a petition to the friends requesting that they be taken on as regular crewmen of the ship “Ocean.” She has come to an agreement with the professor, who will give them the opportunity to engage in scientific research in parallel with their duties. Mark and Andrei are happy; the navigator has lived up to their expectations.

Panting, Kostik rushes in and throws his arms around Olga’s neck. The friends restrain Kostik and apologize for him: he is the youngest of them. […]

Act IV

Scene 6

The ship before sailing. A joyful song of the three friends about the realization of their dreams: the Sea of Okhotsk, hard work, suspense, the joy of discovery await them. Olga and Kostik are finally together. Olga reveals the story of Mark’s “marriage” to Kostik. It was a game, but Olga’s aim and the aims of the friends were different: afraid that Kostik might wed, Andrei wanted to present matrimony to him in the most unattractive light. Olga instructed her friend Nastenka to play to the exact opposite of the friends’ intentions. […] Olga has observed that Mark, Andrei and Nastenka entered into their roles so completely that all that remains for them to do is really get married.

Not having managed to eat anything since breakfast, the professor asks Zoya to prepare his favourite salad. […] Andrei assists Zoya. But the professor is obliged at every turn to reassign the preparation of the salad to new pairs after he discovers first one couple then another in declarations of love. They only get as far as salting the salad. […]

Interrupting each other, Mark and Andrei share their good fortune. The one thing that worries them is their guilt before Kostik; they beg his forgiveness. Seeing that Kostik still quails at confessing to his friends, Olga resolutely announces that Kostik has been married to her for a month. This explains his mysterious behaviour, which Andrei took for infatuation with Zoya.

The professor brings out a bottle of wine and glasses. He proposes a toast to the great, happy family of Soviet youth, to the great secular motherland. Olga proposes a toast to a successful expedition.

The professor invites everyone to sample the salad, but with the first bite his face distorts comically: this much salt isn’t to be found in the entire Sea of Okhotsk! It is clear that the person who salted it is really, truly in love. Who salted the salad? A pause. All reply one after the other: I did, I did, I did…

The signal that the ship is about to sail. The professor invites all to take their places. The expedition is under way. Everyone on deck. “Down to work now, young people. Prove that you are worthy of your nation.”

SPRKFV M. Mendelson

August 1948

* Distant Seas, libretto, authorised typescript

(RGALI, f. 1929, op. 1, ed. khr. 31). Translation by Laurel E. Fay.