Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Maid of Orleans”

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Maid of Orleans” is considered to be one of the greatest creations of the Russian composer in the art of opera.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc. Dave (CC, flickr)

Today, the opera “The Maid of Orleans” is undeservedly forgotten. It’s complicated fate began from the first premiere of the opera.

Complicated fate of the opera “The Maid of Orleans”

Many works of art have been dedicated to the famous warrior woman from Orleans, better known as Joan of Arc. However, Tchaikovsky decided to interpret her story in a new way, to embody the image of the most famous warrior woman in a typical for him heroic and lyrical manner using complex psychological contradictions.

The story about a courageous peasant woman with a hard life interested the composer from an early childhood. When he was 6 years of age, little Peter devoted a poem to his favorite heroine written in French. Images of the made of Orleans were on paper and envelopes, which the composer used in the last years of his life.

There were several reasons why Pyotr Tchaikovsky decided to compose “The Maid of Orleans.”Firstly, after he finished writing “Eugene Onegin” and not believing in its theatrical vitality, the composer became interested in seeking new stories for opera. Secondly, he felt that the success of the opera with such a popular subject matter after the success of the drama by Schiller translated by Zhukovsky was predestined for success.

Tchaikovsky began working on fulfilling his idea in 1878. He was working concurrently on the musical score and the libretto. In his letters the composer repeatedly complained that he was having a hard time with the libretto due to the fact that he not only had to reduce or even edit the original text by Schiller, but also to conduct his own historical research in order to complete the picture with authentic facts.

Why opera “The Maid of Orleans” had only modest success

The premier of the opera had a resounding success. Although along with a great sound the stage picture appeared scarce and poor, due to the fact that the management of the Imperial Theatres was not interested in the new creation of the composer and used only old costumes.

But soon, because of the unpleasant atmosphere surrounding a new opera, it was removed from the opera repertoire. Performances were only resumed a few years later, but only for one season, after which it was again consigned to oblivion, and was no longer staged during the lifetime of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky was so concerned with the unfortunate fate of his favorite work that during the last days of his life he decided to redo the last scene, where Joan was burned at the stake into a glorious death in a battle. But death ruined his plans.

Despite the successful dramatic solutions in creating the image of the main character, the opera “The Maid of Orleans” as a whole came out uneven and contradictory.

Irina Arkhipova. The concert “Russkaya zima” (Russian Winter). 1965

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