Opera in five acts (seven scenes)
Music Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto Sergei Prokofiev and Valentin Kataev after the novella I, Son
of the Working People by Valentin Kataev
Musical director and conductor Valery Gergiev
Stage director Yury Alexandrov
Set designer Semen Pastukh
Semyon Kotko was Sergei Prokofievís fifth opera, following Maddalena, The
Gambler, The Love for Three Oranges and The Fiery Angel. Written twelve
yearsafter The Fiery Angel, Semyon Kotko marked a major change in the thinking of
thecomposer, who decided to write a work about civil war in the Ukraine, a Soviet opera on
arevolutionary theme. Prokofiev, who had recently returned to Russia after having lived
inEurope, seemed therefore to be doing exactly what was expected of him creating a heroic
and uplifting opera acceptable to the authorities. The difference, however, was
thatProkofiev was a musical genius, the innovative creator of his own artistic
universerunning parallel to the real world.
With a naivety encountered only in true geniuses, Prokofiev sincerely believed he could
write fine music to Valentin Kataevís novella I, Son of the Working People, a
bland Socialist Realist tale set in Ukrainian village during the German occupation of
1918. The composer thought that he could humanise the heroes of the revolutionary subject
Ė a sailor with an accordion, a commissar in a leather jacket, a cunning peasant elder
Ė and portray real live human beings. Funnily enough, Prokofievís lyrical talent
andinimitable musical humour did in fact largely overcome the cliches of a Soviet novel
ofthe 1930s, sometimes even raising them to truly Shakespearean heights.
The culmination of the opera, the scene of national calamity, recalls the grand
romanticoperas of the nineteenth century, which often incorporated fires and executions on stage.
When viewed in the light of subsequent history, however, the scale of
Prokofievísinterpretation and feeling for the events of the civil war turns this romantically
efficacious scene into an apocalyptic tableau. Semyon Kotko then becomes a
uniquetestimony to the disastrous establishment of Soviet power in Russia and an eery prophecy
of the events of the second World War.
Semyon Kotko was premiered at the Stanislavsky Theatre of Opera in Moscoe on 23
June 1940 (conductor Mikhail Zhikov, stage director Serafima Birman, set designer
Alexander Tyshler). The opera was mounted for the first time at the Kirov Theatre on 11
June 1960 (conductor Sergei Yelítsin, stage directors Georgy Tovstonogov and
AlexanderKireev, set designer Semen Mandelí).
In the new production of Semyon Kotko at the Mariinsky Theatre, conductor
ValeryGergiev, stage director Yury Alexandrov and set designer semen Pastukh offer a symbolical
and generalised interpretation of Prokofievís opera. Semyon Kotko is above all
aSoviet tragedy, the victims of which are both the Russian people and the great