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Opera in four acts and an epilogue
Libretto by Jegori F. Baron von Rosen & Sergej M. Gorodeckii, epilogue by Wassili A. Schukowski
First performance of 1st edition, A Life for the Tsar, December 9 1836, Bolschoi Theater, Saint Petersburg
Frankfurt adaptation by Norbert Abels & Harry Kupfer: 1st performed November 25 2015
Sung in Russian and German with German surtitles
ca. 2 hours 30 minutes, including 1 interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance
»What I like most is the joy Russians get out of romance. They have a completely different idea of opera and completely different dramaturgy. More often it is scenes which can grow into large, poetic tableaux that are chosen over the more dramatic, powerful episodes«. Harry Kupfer's characterisation certainly applies to this opera.
The story is clear and simple: after a change in power and supposed victory over the enemy, preparations are under way for the marriage between Sobinin, back from war, and his beloved Antonida. When the enemy attack again and burst into the house of Iwan Sussanin, father of the bride, he knows he must act immediately if he is to save the fatherland. In the middle of the night he sends his foster-son Wanja to a secret place where their new leader is camped, to warn him of the advancing forces. Sussanin leads the enemy deep into the woods so that they have no idea where they are, and pays for this with his life. Michael Glinka, the father of Russian opera, shows his love for people living in the countryside in his imposing choral passages. He once said: »the people make the music, we musicians just arrange it.«
Act I Moscow is about to be taken by enemy forces. In a village outside the city Antonida, daughter of the farmer Iwan Sussanin, longs to see her beloved Sobinin again. He returns from the front with good news: the Russian troups were able to hold their own against the enemy. Sobinin is the new leader of the partisans. When he asks Sussanin for Antonida's hand, her anxious father consents with reluctance because it does not feel right to celebrate a wedding when the situation in Russia is so unsettled. Act II In occupied Warsaw the enemy are celebrating their apparent victory over Moscow. But news soon reaches them that the taking of the city has failed. Refusing to tolerate such military and economic defeat, they prepare to attack again. Act III Wanja, Iwan Sussanin's foster son, dreams of going to battle, but is too young. When Sussanin tells him about their new leader the young man longs to serve him. The enemy force their way into Sussanin's house. They threaten to kill him if he refuses to lead them to the place where the new leader is hidden. Sussanin feigns ignorance and invites them to the wedding. He secretly sends Wanja off with a warning about the invading army to the leader's hiding place. Sussanin, pretending to accept a bribe, leads the enemy into the woods. Antonida is left behind, desperate. When Sobinin returns with his men and finds out what has happened, he sets off immediately. Act IV Wanja reaches the leader's hideaway at night and wakes everyone up. They too set out to march against the enemy. Meanwhile, Sussanin has led the enemy deep into the woods. The men, now mistrustful, fall asleep exhausted. Sussanin knows that his country has been saved because the enemy will never find their way out of the overgrown woods, but also that he will pay for this with his life. At dawn, when he admits having led them astray, they kill him. Epilogue The Russian people celebrate the liberation of their country and victory over the enemy. They laud and honour Iwan Sussanin's heroic deed.