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Work of the Week – Nikolaj Rimskij-Korsakov: Sonnwendnacht

This year, you will not only have the opportunity to experience the winter solstice on 21 December, but also afterwards. How does that work? On 23 December 2021, Oper Frankfurt will present Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sonnwendnacht. The opera in four acts is based on Nikolai Gogol’s well-known fairy tale Christmas Eve – the production in Frankfurt also uses this title. Rimsky-Korsakov works with traditional Kolyada songs, which used to be sung in Russia on the evening before Christmas.The performance will be in Russian, with German and English subtitles, directed by Christof Loy with musical direction from Sebastian Weigle.

Sonnwendnacht by Rimsky-Korsakov – Setting a Christmas Fairytale to Music

The tale is set in a small Ukrainian village. Its inhabitants go from house to house, singing Kolyada songs on Christmas Eve. Only the blacksmith Wakula does not join in the celebrations, as he is unhappily in love with Oksana. The beautiful landowner’s daughter agrees to marry him – but only if he gives her the Tsarina’s golden shoes. With the help of the devil, he manages to procure the shoes and he is finally able to marry Oksana. At the end of Rimsky-Korsakov’s self-written libretto, the village joins in a hymn of praise in honor of the poet Gogol.

[Kolyada songs] are the songs that are sung in front of the windows on Christmas eve. The housewife or the master of the house, or whoever is at home, gives a sausage, a loaf of bread or a copper coin, depending on his fortune, to the singers. […] Last year Fr. Osip tried to ban the Kolyada songs because he thought that singing them was a way of serving Satan. But in these songs, to tell the truth, there is not a word about Kolyada. Their texts are mostly about the birth of Christ, and at the end they wish health to the master of the house, the housewife, the children and the whole house. Nikolai Gogol

Sonnwendnacht was first performed in 1895 at the Mariinsky Theater St. Petersburg. This season, Oper Frankfurt will perform the work for the first time. Four more performances will take place through January 8. 


photo: Oper Frankfurt / Monika Rittershaus