Nápravník’s accomplishments as a composer are not the main reasons for his place in Russian music history as he is best known for being the principal conductor at St. Petersburg for over 50 years, and unlike some now more famous Russian composers of his time, he was well trained in music.
· Eduard Francevič Nápravník ·
Born: 24 August, 1839, Beischt, Bohemia
Died: 23 November, 1916
He was born the second son of a school teacher. When he was 11 years old, his mother died and his father died three years later. An uncle found him a position as an organist and in 1854, he entered the Prague Organ School but after two years he could no longer afford to continue his studies. However, the Conservatory director, J.F. Kittl, recognised the talents of the boy and allowed him to attend the daily Opera class and even gave him private lessons. In 1861, Kittl found him a post as 2nd conductor at Frankfurt Opera but coincidentally he was also offered the position of conductor of the private orchestra of Prince Yusupov in St. Petersburg. It was the latter position that Nápravník accepted, thus beginning his long association with the city. After a few years, he moved to the Mariinsky theatre, which was to prove crucial to his career.
Meanwhile he was writing music. His first opera, ‘Nizhegorodzy’ (1857) was the usual standard operatic stuff. At the time, every Russian composer was trying to get on the operatic bandwagon and Nápravník was no exception. He had a young family to provide for and his increasing duties as a conductor left him hardly any time to supplement his small income with private lessons. In the event, his first opera did reasonably well and in 1869, Nápravník became principal conductor at the Mariinsky theatre and also conductor of the Russian Musical Society. He also organised concerts at the Imperial Court at which he appeared as pianist and organist. While he did not have the time to teach at St Petersburg Conservatory, he did lecture regularly and as an influential figure in Russian music, he was in a position to advise Tchaikovsky on his first incursion into opera. In 1874, he took out Russian citizenship after which he seldom travelled abroad. His next opera, ‘Harold’, was not a success but in preparing for his third opera, ‘Dubrovsky’, he asked Modeste Tchaikovsky to write a libretto based on Pushkin, as Modeste had done for his brother Peter. (The Queen of Spades). With ‘Dubrovsky’, Nápravník scored a lasting success. His last opera, ‘Francesa da Rimini’ (1902) was not a success although the first performances went well. In December, 1914, after more than 50 years in a leading role in Russian musical life, ill-health forced Nápravník to stop conducting and he died in November, 1916.
The title role of Vladimir in ‘Dubrovsky’ was taken by the Russian tenor Nicolai Figner and the female lead of Masha was sung by his wife, Medea Mei-Figner. While Figner is not represented in our six voices, he deserves a mention:
Nicolai Figner (1856-1919) studied at St. Petersburg Conservatory and in Italy. In 1882, he made his debut in Gounod’s ‘Philemon et Baucis’ in Naples and in 1884, he gained stage experience in South America with Claudio Rossi’s company. He appeared in the world premier of ‘Edmea’ (Catalani) at La Scala, Milan, conducted by the then unknown Arturo Toscanini. He made many successful appearances throughout Europe with his wife, the Italian Soprano Medea Mei, before returning to St.Petersburg and the Imperial Opera, where both had enviable careers. From 1910 – 1915, he directed and sang at the Narodniy Dom Opera House. He lost most of his possessions during the Russian revolution and died shortly thereafter.
· Dubrovsky ·
Opera in four acts by Eduard Nápravník. Libretto by Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky (assisted by Josef Palecek and advised by Ivan Vsevolozhsky) after an unfinished novella by Pushkin (loosely adapted).
Pushkin’s melodramatic story of vengeance and star-crossed love was practically an operatic gala before it was set to music: The hero is Vladimir Dubrovsky (tenor, in the opera) who is a landowner’s son who is cheated out of his inheritance by one Kirill Troyekurov (baritone), a false friend of his father Andrei (bass).
As a result, Vladimir becomes a ‘noble outlaw’ but is undone by his love for Troyekurov’s daughter, Masha (soprano). To be near her, he intercepts and impersonates a French tutor, a Monsieur Desforges, and gives her music lessons. That is one natural opportunity for the composer, to which Nápravník responded with some pretty vocalises and French salon ditties. There are also massed choral scenes depicting the elder Dubrovsky’s wake, and in the robbers den (including a funnier-than-intended scene with the hapless tutor, M. Desforges). The younger Dubrovsky’s first criminal act occurrs at the end of Act 1 and consists of the lurid murder by arson of the objectionable bailiffs sent by the court to take possession of the Dubrovsky homestead on Troyekurov’s behalf. The first Act ends with Vladimir’s romance, ‘O give me oblivion.’
Pushkin’s story has a decidedly unoperatic ending (or being broken off before it could be finished) with Masha being married off to an old nobleman against her will, and Dubrovsky narrowly escaping capture.
However, Modest Tchaikovsky was having none of that and replaced this typically Pushkinian anti-climax with a gigantic love duet, reminiscent of the one he wrote for his brother’s opera ‘The Queen of Spades’, ending in a shoot-out with the Police and Vladimir’s death in the arms of Masha.
The vocal writing is virtuoso, testifying to the opulence of the Imperial Russian Opera in its golden age. The title role, a showpiece for Nicolai Figner, remains one of the most characteristic Slavonic-tenor roles in the repertory. The Act 1 romance, a stylized lullaby ending morendo on a sustained high Bflat, is a Russian concert favourite and well-recorded by Russian tenors.
Nápravník’s score is lavishly decorated and abounds in local colour and nature depiction.
· Audio ·
Nápravník: Dubrovsky: Vladimir’s recitative and Romance: “O give me oblivion”, sung by Nikolai Figner, recorded in 1901.
· Lyrics ·
Itak vsyo kocheno. Su d’boi neumolimoi
Ya osuzhdyon byt ‘ sirotoi
Eshcho vchera imel ya khleb i krov rodimoi
Azavtra vstrechus’s nishchetoi!
Pokinu vas, sviashchyonnye mogily,
Moi dom i amyat’ yunykh detskikh let,
Poidu, bezdomnyi i unylyi,
Putyom lisheniya i byed!
O, dai mne zabven ‘e, rodnaya,
Sogrei u sebya na grudi
I, detskiye sny navenaya
Dai prezhneye schast’e naiti!,
Isterzan ya satrashnoyu mukoi.
Vsglyani, kak obuzhen lud’mi ya!
Ty snova menya obayukai,
Stradinya laskoyu nezhnoi uimi!
Pust’ angelom blagostnym reya.
Tvoya nezemnnaya lyubov’
I greya moi dukh, leleya evo,
Probudit k svidan’yu vnov’!
O, dai, rodnaya, mne zabvenie naiti!
O, dai! … naiti! …
English transcribed lyrics:
And so, all’s finished. An implacable fate
has condemned me to be orphaned.
Only yesterday I had bread and my own shelter,
And tomorrow I am faced with poverty!
I must leave you, hallowed graves,
My home, my memory of youthful, childhood years.
I’ll leave, homeless and despondent,
Along the path of hardship and misfortune!
( takes out a portrait-medallion)
That’s all that’s left for me!
Oh, give me oblivion, my dear,
Warm me in your arms
And, evoking childhood dreams,
Let me recapture old bliss!
I’m torn my frightful torment.
Look how people have wronged me!
Once again you’ll lull me to sleep,
And tenderly remove my pain!
May that the angel of heaven,
And your unearthly love,
Warming and caressing my soul,
Will waken us to meet again!
Oh, give me oblivion to find, my dear,
Oh, give! … to find! …
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