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Work of the Week: Rodion Shchedrin – The Enchanted Wanderer

The Munich Philharmonic celebrates Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s 85th birthday with a concert performance of his opera The Enchanted Wanderer at the Philharmonie in Munich on 19 and 20 December with conductor Valery Gergiev.

Inspired by Nikolai Leskov’s classic Russian novel of the same title, the complex story details the eventful life of Ivan who after accidentally killing a monk, is captured by Tartars and forced into military service. He resigns himself to certain death as a soldier, however fate intervenes and he becomes a servant to a Prince. Tasked with managing the royal treasury, Ivan falls in love with the gypsy dancer Grusha and courts her using the Prince’s funds. Grusha, in turn, is in love with the Prince, but their affair is short lived and the Prince soon marries another woman. Broken hearted, Grusha meets Ivan on a high cliff edge and deplores him to kill her so she is not tempted to murder the Prince and his new bride. As proof of his love Ivan pushes Grusha into the sea then joins a monastery to atone for his sins.

Rodion Shchedrin – The Enchanted Wanderer: the pull of fate

Shchedrin’s music takes his audience into the heart of old Russia. The Enchanted Wanderer features shepherd’s folk songs, drinking songs and traditional Russian melodies. Each soloist sings multiple roles and the work is well suited to a concert staging.

Some people may find the number of different strands excessive, but the opera genre (albeit for the concert stage) allows me to present Lsekov’s extended and colourful story using sharper contrasts than, say, a symphony would. I hope that the audience will follow the narrative with unflagging interest, be caught up in Leskov’s story, and feel sympathy and compassion for the characters and their fate. – Rodion Shchedrin

Shchedrin’s opera A Christmas Tale will also be performed this month on 23 December in St. Petersburg, and his birthday celebrations continue at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow with a portrait concert.