From April 12-14, 2007, the Berlind Theater at Princeton University will stage a world premiere of Pushkin's 1825 play in an authoritative new translation by Antony Wood. The staging will feature choral and orchestral music that Sergei Prokofiev composed in 1936 for the innovative theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose efforts to stage the play in Stalin's Russia went to waste. The 2007 premiere, an international collaboration between Princeton University and the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow, will involve students in the Program in Theater and Dance, the Princeton University Orchestra, the Princeton University Chamber Chorus, and the School of Architecture. The four performances will be preceded by an international symposium involving Pushkin, Prokofiev, and Russian theater scholars. Firestone Library will curate an exhibit devoted to the project, and the Slavic Department will offer an upper-level undergraduate course called "Pushkin, Prokofiev, Meyerhold: Boris Godunov on the Twentieth-Century Stage." The creative team hopes to involve as many members of the University community as possible in this special event.
As directed by Tim Vasen, the staging will have a dual academic focus. First, it will immerse theater, music, and dance students in Pushkinian drama (Boris Godunov, a historical play in iambic pentameter, bears the notably influence of Shakespeare and Schiller). Second, it will introduce students to the theatrical innovations of Vsevolod Meyerhold, one of the greatest directors and theater theoreticians of the twentieth century, whose aborted plans for a production of Boris Godunov in 1927 will provide the historical and conceptual foundation for our own production. The Mendel Music Library owns copies of Meyerhold's rehearsal transcripts, which reveal that Meyerhold wanted the acting to be energetic, even muscular, with certain scenes overlapping and the set in constant motion. The barriers between the auditorium and the stage were to have been eliminated, making the audience feel like a part of the action; the actors would have moved between platforms via ramps, faces would appear in holes punched out in the walls, and indecipherable chatter would have been heard from the wings.
In 1936, Prokofiev completed a score for Meyerhold's unrealized production. It features a half-Eastern, half-Western military tattoo, drunken singing, glittering ballroom dances, a reverie, and an ethereal amoroso. Prokofiev framed these vibrant passages with their emotional inversions: a widow's lament, a sing-along for blind beggars, three behind-the-scenes choruses, and four songs of loneliness. As in Modest Musorgsky's Boris Godunov, the opera that lurks in the background of Meyerhold's and Prokofiev's unrealized project, the score also includes a poignant passage for a bedraggled Holy Fool. Prokofiev stopped working on the score after completing twenty-four numbers. One of the numbers, a surreal Polonaise, requires complex choreography; it will be provided by Rebecca Lazier.
The devastating politics of the Stalinist era prevented Meyerhold from realizing his magnificent production. (In June 1939, he was arrested on spurious charges of treason; in February 1940, he was shot.) To this date, Prokofiev's score has never been used for a live performance of Pushkin's play, even though it comprises some of the finest music of his career. Nor has the full text of Pushkin's play received a first-class staging in English. Beyond celebrating a literary masterpiece, the 2007 staging will celebrate Prokofiev's and Meyerhold's creative visions.
23 AUGUST 2006
This project is generously sponsored by:
The Princeton University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts
Department of Music
Council of the Humanities
Office of the Dean of the Faculty
School of Architecture
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Friends of the Princeton University Library and the
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Program in Russian Studies