“The Limpid Stream”. Comedy Ballet
Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre, staged by F.V. Lopukhov, conductor P.E. Feldt. Cast: Zina - Z. A. Vasilieva, Peter - P. A. Gusev, Classical dancer - F. I. Balabina.
DSCH Publishers, Moscow, 1997 - piano score. New Collected Works: 2006 volume 64a - full score of Acts 1 and 2, 2007 volume 64 - full score of Act 3
RGALI, f. 2048 - score, piano score. RNMM, f. 32 - score, piano score. Library of the Mikhailovsky Theater, SPb - score, piano score.
"Now I am finishing a new ballet... I find the libretto satisfactory. The action unfolds in a collective farm in the Kuban region. The characters are collective farmers and performers who are visiting the farm. The underlyingidea of the ballet is a comic one. I am inclined to call it a choreographic comedy, a genre which Lopukhov has captured splendidly. He is the author of the libretto and also the director. An atmosphere of bright colours and lightness ... these are the goals which the composer was aspiring to when creating this new ballet. The music has a lyrical quality and many comic elements".
My Third Ballet
"The subject of this ballet is very simple and straightforward. The music in my view is merry, light, entertaining and, most importantly, just right for dancing. In this work I deliberately tried to find a clear, simple language ... equally accessible for the audience and the performers. Dancing to music that is lacking in rhythmic and melodic tautness is, in my view, not only difficult but quite simply impossible...
<...> 'Bright Stream' is my third ballet on a Soviet theme. The first two 'The Golden Age' and 'The Bolt' I consider most unsuccessful from a dramatic point of view. I think that the main mistake lay in the fact that the author of the libretto while trying to convey our world in a ballet, failed to take into account the specific requirements of ballet. Depicting socialist reality in a ballet is a very serious undertaking. A superficial approach is quite out of the question here. Episodes such as the 'Dance of Enthusiasm' or the pantomime portrayal of the work process (striking an anvils with a hammer) show up the inadequate approach to the problem of how to produce a realistic ballet on a Soviet theme.
I cannot be totally sure, of course, that my third attempt will not fail as well, but even then it will not stop me from trying again, a fourth time, to compose a Soviet ballet."
The Limpid Stream
Comedy Ballet in Three Acts
Libretto by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov
On 13 June 1934, Shostakovich signed a contract with the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre for composing the music to the ballet The Two Sylphs—this was one of the original names of The Limpid Stream (later the ballet was also given other working names: Kuban, Midday, Whims). The libretto authors, Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov, who was also to be the choreographer-producer of the performance, talked Shostakovich into agreeing to compose new music for the ballet—after the failure of The Bolt—and enter a new work contract with the theatre.
The previous performances Lopukhov mentioned, Harlequinade and Coppelia, which he staged at the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre, went down in the history of Soviet ballet as major milestone works in the revival of classical dance.
In The Limpid Stream, Lopukhov, who addressed contemporary themes and images with even greater vigour than in Coppelia and Harlequinade, began to revive classical dance and the traditional ballet performance, which also intrinsically included divertimento.
It is understandable that the predominant role of dance and the ballet’s comic theme were also a determining factor in the composer’s work.
The music was composed in close cooperation with Lopukhov, who recalled many years later that the composer wrote “Adagio. Zina and Pyotr”, for example, in accordance with his detailed explanations of the scene and even specific dance pas. Vibrancy, succulence, and lightness—these were the tasks the composer faced when composing the new ballet. There is a great deal of lyricism in the music and many comic elements.
Behind the outer simplicity of the ballet’s content and the vaudeville frivolity of the performance, the critics of those years could not (or decided not to) see the multi-level burlesque structure of the work.
The Limpid Stream, which revives and develops the classical ballet tradition using new and vital subject matter, was at the same time a very detailed parody on the stereotypes of classical ballet: The script of The Limpid Stream is a kind of paraphrase of the script of Coppelia (particularly of the version staged by Lopukhov), transferred to contemporary life. As in Coppelia, the scriptwriters of The Limpid Stream focus their attention on a young couple (in the first, this is a fiancé and his bride, in the second—a husband and wife); the hero becomes infatuated with a visiting stranger: in Coppelia—a wind-up doll, in The Limpid Stream—a ballerina from the capital. The hero, whose frivolity the authors treat leniently, is offset by characters for whom chasing after light entertainment has become a habit and who are maliciously held up to mockery. In Coppelia, this is the burgomaster, while in The Limpid Stream, it is the dacha dwellers. Several thematic situations were even borrowed from Coppelia, in particular, disguise: in the first, the servants dress in tiger skins, in the second, the tractor operator wears a dog skin. There are also extremely open references to Coppelia in Shostakovich’s music as well, for example, in Ballerina’s Variation (No. 41), which has the second name of “Pizzicato” and clearly correlates with a similar piece from Delibes’ ballet. Tchaikovsky’s ballet Adagios are imitated with undisguised irony in the Adagio of The Limpid Stream, and so on.
Another more pertinent and more dangerous target of mockery for the creators of The Limpid Stream was the odious myths about the happy life of the Soviet collective farm. The critics of those years most likely tried to ignore, for understandable reasons, the parody inherent in The Limpid Stream. The party leaders immediately understood the ballet’s satirical implication as soon as it appeared on the capital’s stages.
The premiere of the ballet The Limpid Stream was held at the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre on 4 June 1935. In the autumn of the same year, choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov began working on a production of the ballet for the capital’s Bolshoi Theatre. The ballet’s tempestuous success on the Leningrad stage and the triumphs of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which was performed simultaneously in Leningrad and in Moscow, favourably paved the way for the ballet’s performance on the stage of the country’s top theatre.
The best artistes in the troupe were invited to participate in the production. Pyotr Lopukhov invited soloists Zinaida Vassilyeva and Pyotr Gusev, who performed the roles of Zina, a local entertainer, and Pyotr, a student agronomist, in the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre production, to dance these same parts in Moscow. Olga Lepeshinskaya was the understudy for Zina.
The premiere of The Limpid Stream at the USSR Bolshoi Theatre was held on 30 November 1935. The ballet was a resounding success here, too. Thirty years later, when comparing these two productions, Lopukhov wrote that in Leningrad “the audience responded to this performance with more delight than to any other. Performances followed one after another in an auditorium that was always full to overflowing... The Limpid Stream also enjoyed huge success in Moscow.” Lopukhov was asked to be the director of ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre.
As in Leningrad, the press responses to the Moscow premiere were positive, sometimes even enraptured, with the same critical comments about the libretto. “To use traditional ballet language, in the first act a group of ‘farmers’ meets a group of ‘city-dwellers’ and they dance through the next two acts in the same vein,” wrote one of the first reviewers of the Moscow performance.
A comparison of both versions of the libretto printed in the Leningrad and Moscow brochures shows that in the Bolshoi Theatre production, the content of The Limpid Stream was much more primitive and schematic, which made the ballet even more vulnerable to criticism. Nevertheless, the performance was a box-office hit and extremely well received by the audience.
The success of the jovial comedy ballet based on a contemporary Soviet topic seemed so undeniable and convincing that despite the barbarous article entitled “Muddle Instead of Music” about Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District that had been published earlier in Pravda, the scathing piece in the same newspaper (the central printed organ of the Communist Party) about The Limpid Stream came as a total surprise.
The article “Balletic Falsity” was a signal to step up the persecution campaign that had already begun against Shostakovich with respect to the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The ballet became an additional target for denunciations. The article gave withering descriptions of all the main components of the performance: the libretto, the music, and the choreography.
Shostakovich did not participate in any of the discussions about his creative work, nor did he make any statements in the press. But on 7 February, the day after the “Balletic Falsity” article appeared, the disgraced composer went to see Chairman of the Art Affairs Committee under the USSR Council of People’s Commissars Platon Kerzhentsev. In a report to Stalin and Molotov the same day, Kerzhentsev said that Shostakovich had told him that he accepted most of the criticism, “but had still not accepted all of it.” Kerzhentsev recommended that the author of Lady Macbeth and The Limpid Stream “following the example of Rimsky-Korsakov, take a trip around the villages of the Soviet Union, record the folk songs of Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Georgia, select the best one hundred songs from among them, and harmonize them”, and when working on operas and ballets “send us the libretto”. Shostakovich did not object. “He asked me to pass on that the Soviet composers would very much like to have a talk with Comrade Stalin.”
His visit with Kerzhentsev evidently gave Shostakovich some hope. Even though he had retreated from the public eye, he closely followed what was going on, while continuing to work on the Fourth Symphony.
The destructive results of the campaign “to fight against formalism” are difficult to review and assess in their entire scope and historical repercussions.
The ballet The Limpid Stream was immediately removed from the repertoire. What is more, a decision was made at the Leningrad Maly Opera Theatre to destroy the stage sets so there would be no temptation to restore the performance!
Fyodor Lopukhov, who was banned from the theatre, never returned to his career as innovative choreographer.
Shostakovich never wrote ballet music again, although at the end of 1935 he announced his idea for a “piquant and vibrant choreographic performance using musical expression that describes the adventures of the Spanish hidalgo” based on Servantes’ Don Quixote. But much more important is the fact that 1936 proved to be a tragic psychological turning-point for the composer, according to the evidence of his contemporaries who knew him well.
The anti-formalist campaign and Pravda editorials, which were like directives, and the resolutions of the party’s Central Committee, which were essentially of the same ilk, had an impact on the development of the entire culture of the Soviet Union for many decades to come. In a country that had already been through the terrible school of the public procedures against ‘enemies of the people’ the signal was perceived instantly and with no mistake. The campaign, which was supposedly begun against specific art phenomena, very quickly turned into all-encompassing persecution of the non-conformist creative intelligentsia.
The assessments of 1936 proved to be extremely tenacious. The provisions of the Pravda articles were never officially reviewed and never, even during the perestroika years, cancelled. They were repeated, and at times compounded, in academic scientific papers and textbooks, encyclopaedic publications, and newspaper articles.
A book that came out ten years later and was especially devoted to an analysis of the experiments of Soviet composers in ballet, in “special features related to the present day”, and focused “on the creative work of the founders of Soviet ballet music”, did not even mention The Limpid Stream, or Shostakovich’s other two ballets.50 rticle on Glier’s ballets, in which Shostakovich is mentioned as continuing Glier’s traditions. Using ballet divertimento “to present a satirical description of the world of shirkers, embezzlers (?!), Nepmen, and the corrupt world of the capitalist West in his ballets”, Shostakovich, according to the researcher, develops the findings of the author of The Red Poppy.
Rebirth of The Limpid Stream began in 1994 with preparation of the score and orchestra music at DSCH Publishers. Between 9 and 14 June 1995, at the Concert Hall in Stockholm, the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was the first to record the ballet’s music under the baton of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. In 1997, DSCH Publishers put out the author’s arrangement of the ballet for piano. Finally, on 18 April 2003, the premiere of the ballet was held on the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Alexei Ratmansky’s production. The Limpid Stream proved to be almost the most successful theatre performance of the beginning of the new century.
In January 2004, The Limpid Stream was shown with triumphant success at the Palais Garnier, the Grand Opera House in Paris, during a tour of the Bolshoi Theatre. The same year, the performance was recognized as the best ballet of the 2002/2003 season and awarded the “Block-Buster of the Season” prize instituted by the Union of Theatrical Figures of Russia. The national theatre prize “Golden Mask” was awarded to Alexei Ratmansky (Best Choreographer’s Work). Maria Alexandrova (Best Female Performer in the Ballet), Sergei Filin and Gennadi Yanin (Best Male Performers) also received “Golden Mask” prizes. Gennadi Yanin also received a special Musical Theatre Jury Prize for his performance of the role of the Accordion Player.
In 2007, Ratmansky was awarded the Shostakovich prize instituted by the Yuri Bashmet Foundation for his production of Shostakovich’s ballets (the ballet The Bolt had already been added to The Limpid Stream).
In 2006-2007, DSCH Publishers put out a double volume of New Collected Works (64a and 64b) which included the full score of the ballet The Limpid Stream.