Wednesday, July 26, 2006

misrepresenting Mazeppa

It is no great surprise that historical details are being watered down in contemporary presentations of the opera Mazeppa, as illustrated in this report:

Mazeppa - or Mazepa, if you prefer up-to-date spelling - does need to be enlivened if it is to make its full impact. ... Unlike Eugene Onegin (or so theatrical theory is prone to assert) it can no longer be played straight. ... The fine detail of the dispute between Ukrainian separatists and Cossack landowners at the time of Peter the Great - the subject of the Pushkin epic poem that inspired it - is thought to be of no great interest to a modern audience, even with some glorious music as ballast.

Thought by whom? Funny they don't say.

And this dispute between Ukrainian separatists and Cossack landowners? Huh? I thought the "dispute" was the Battle of Poltava, between the Russian emperor Peter and the combined forces of Sweden's king Charles XII and Ukrainian hetman Mazeppa.

Besides, I daresay it's not lack of interest, so much as lack of knowledge. Given most mainstream historical accounts relegate the Ukrainian aspirations of independence as a footnote, it's a tad disingenuous and quite a cop-out to accuse general audiences of lacking interest in the history of the era.

Why it was internationally neglected for so long is in some ways puzzling. Today we can safely say that, for better or worse, its time has come, and that it forms a conspicuous part of the achievement of the very varied composer we now recognise Tchaikovsky to be.

What's more puzzling (at least to me) is why this opera's time has suddenly come ... at this particular point in time.

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