Premiere: October 26, 1930. The Kirov State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in Leningrad. Choreographers: E. Kaplan and V. Vaionen. Conductor. A. Gauk.
The ballet "The Age of Gold" was re-staged in the Bolshoi Theatre of the USSR with a libretto by I. Glikman and Y. Grigorovich.
Premiere of the new production: November 4, 1982. Choreographer: Y. Grigorovich.
Premiere abroad: The ballet was staged in Duisburg, Berlin and Warsaw.
"Two elements underlie the music for the ballet 'The Age of Gold': music relating to modern Western European bourgeois culture and the music of proletarian culture. The juxtaposition of these two cultures was my main objective when composing 'The Age of Gold'. This objective was pursued as follows: the West-European dances are marked by unhealthy eroticism, so characteristic of modern bourgeois culture, while I held it to be vital to instil into the Soviet dances a spirit of healthy gymnastics and sport. I find it difficult to imagine the development of Soviet dance in any other way. I saw it as essential not just to write music easy to dance to, but also to dramatize the very essence of the music, to lend the music true symphonic tension and dramatic progression."
"...sets and costumes with yellow patches like sun spots... When after the incredibly dynamic action the whole cast suddenly stopped and glided slowly, as if in a 'rapid take' for a film, I stopped hearing the music because of the ovation in the hall... An unforgettable evening!"
"In my view the perform was a fiasco... <...> Perhaps you remember the story of how this ballet came into being? Let me remind you: I did my level best to turn down the proposed libretto <...>. One way or another the ballet got written. I am unable to defend it with enthusiasm, knowing as I do that 'The Age of Gold', because of its artistic content, is an anti-artistic work. The blame for my having written an anti-artistic work lies with you, Lyubinsky, Sollertinsky, Gordinsky and others. I take responsibility for the musical part of 'The Age of Gold', which I see as unusually successful (in comparison with many things I have written), but from now on I shall compose music on subjects which really stir me. Failures (as I see them) like 'The Age of Gold' are not easy to come to terms with".
“The Golden Age”
Ballet in three acts (the original name is "Dynamiada").
Libretto by Aleksandr Ivanovsky.
The Golden Age is the first of three ballets composed by Shostakovich at the end of the 1920s and the first half of the 1930s. Written in 1929-1930, it was followed by The Bolt (1931) and The Limpid Stream (1934‑1935).
The idea of a ballet on a contemporary theme was proposed to Shostakovich by the Administration of the Leningrad State Theatres in June 1929. At that time, the creation of a Soviet ballet was the top priority for choreographers. Towards this goal a competition for the best scenario for a ballet was announced in January 1929. First prize went to Aleksandr Ivanovsky for his story Dinamiada which told of the foreign adventures of the Soviet football team Dinamo (hence the work’s name). The story abounds in adventure and the details of a detective tale (surveillance, provocation, an arrest, fleeing, a chase, disguise and unveiling—in both the literal and metaphorical sense), and there are also elements of a love affair (the attraction a Western dancer, Diva, feels for one of the Soviet footballers), all unfolded against a background of scenes from the life of a large capitalist city and sports games and contests, including football and boxing. The narrative provided the basis for a varied and fascinating spectacle and met the major criteria of the competition: a subject from contemporary life, preferably from urban life (“urbanism, industrial culture”); the creation of action “on the movement of the masses (gatherings, demonstrations, fighting, jostling crowds at railway stations, street scenes)”; the possibilities for “new dance forms—acrobatic, gymnastic dances”, and so on.
Initially, Shostakovich rejected the proposal put to him by the Administration of the State Theatres. The Dinamiada story struck him as dull. “Perhaps you remember the story of the birth of this ballet?” he wrote to the stage director Nikolai Smolich after the premiere of 30 October 1930. “Let me remind you: I fought tooth and nail to resist taking on the scenario proposed to me. At the beginning you supported me in this. Then you changed tactics and decided that the ballet had to be written. I obeyed you...”
In July and August Shostakovich was busy composing the Third Symphony, and it is possible that alongside it he gave some thought to the future ballet; after finishing the symphony he started working
on the score for the Dinamiada.
Evidently, by the time the music for Act One was shown to the APCB, part of Act Two had already been composed, and Shostakovich assured the Theatre that the whole score would be submitted on 1 November.
The ballet’s premiere was “tentatively set for the end of January”9 1930. The first page of the ballet’s manuscript score bears the annotation: “Submitted to the copyist. 1/XI/29. A. Gauk”. (Aleksandr Gauk was the production’s music director.) From this it can be concluded that Shostakovich completed the ballet no later than 31 October 1929, and submitted it to the Theatre within the prescribed period.
Several new pieces had to be written, in particular the “Dance of the Black Man and Two Soviet Footballers” (or the “Dance of the Black Man and White Man”). “Dmitri Dmitriyevich,” Gauk recalled, “struck us with his precision and professionalism: on no occasion was he late with the composition of new music required for the ballet nor with orchestration.” A number of changes in the score were made by Shostakovich once orchestra rehearsals had begun in 1930, apparently in consideration of the way the orchestra sounded from the pit.
The staging of The Golden Age, which posed new and complex problems for the stage directors and performers, turned out to be longer than envisaged. The premiere was postponed several times. Smolich moved to Moscow where he took up the position of Principal Director at the Bolshoi Theatre. In his place Emmanuil Kaplan was appointed stage director of The Golden Age. The choreography was entrusted to Vasiliy Vainonen, Leonid Yakobson and Vladimir Chesnakov.
Despite the numerous vicissitudes and obstacles that arose during the preparations for the production, which continued for almost an entire year, The Golden Age did at last appear before the public and made a stunning and memorable sight. No matter that it lacked somewhat in cohesion and contained a slightly dissonant array of elements; it was interesting for the novelty of its choreographic experimentation and discoveries, for the dynamism of the action, the originality of the costumes and sets and the talent of the whole pleiad of splendid young dancers, which included Yelena Lyukom, Olga Iordan, Galina Ulanova, Olga Mungalova, Leonid Lavrovsky, Vakhtang Chabukiani and Konstantin Sergeyev.
The premiere of The Golden Age was a success; “the long and hearty applause received by all those involved in the production speaks for itself,” commented one of the reviews. The Golden Age went on for 19 performances24—more than enough to prove how successful the new ballet was. Soon after the Leningrad premiere it was staged in Kiev and then in Odessa.
However, the ballet was kept in the repertoire until the end of the 1930/31 season, and it appears that it continued to play to full house; all the same it was thereafter removed from the repertoire. Somewhat later, after the appearance of damning articles in Pravda concerning Shostakovich’s opera
Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (“Muddle Instead of Music”, 28 January 1936) and his ballet Limpid Stream (“Ballet Lies”, 6 February 1936), the charge of formalism was indiscriminately extended to the whole of his oeuvre, including The Golden Age.
The music of a number of dance pieces from The Golden Age included in the Suite Op. 22a and, together with dances from two other ballets, in the collection of Ballet Suites secured exceptionally wide fame on the concert stage and in radio broadcasts, though no mention was made of the actual ballets from which the pieces came.
At the beginning of the 1980s, The Golden Age returned to the stage in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow with the brilliant choreography of Yuri Grigorovich and was acclaimed for performances given when the Theatre took it on tour through many countries around the world. The rehabilitation of this forgotten and reviled work was spectacular. However, its renaissance took place in a musical version which diverged fundamentally from the original and with a completely new narrative.
DSCH’s project to publish The Golden Age, and following that Shostakovich’s two other ballets, presents the opportunity for them to be returned to the stage, after decades of oblivion, in their original form.