I have to apologize to the readers of BAP for my disappearance. One of the reasons is that I am in the process of completing an orchestral score for the upcoming premiere of my opera Gogol in Vienna. It is a large-scale opera with three acts, full orchestra, two choirs (adult mixed choir and boys), dances and the cast of fifteen characters.
Since yesterday was Gogol's birthday, I think it would be appropriate to share with the readers of BAP a short interview I gave last week via email about Gogol. While the actual interview will be published in German, here is the English version of it.
1) Why are you fascinated by Gogol?
Gogol, born a Ukrainian cossack, is often considered the father of modern Russian literature. He was a writer with a rich and conflicted inner life, able to bring to light, in the most vivid form, the tragic nature of the human condition. His writings are even more relevant today than they were during his time.
2) Which story is reflected in your opera "Gogol"?
Before starting my work on this opera, I reread the complete works of Gogol, as well as over twenty books written about him. For the opera, I wished to create not a historical account of Gogol’s life, but a dreamlike vision of his inner passions, his madness and genius. Opera is above all a drama, the ultimate dramatic expression. Some operas based on historical events and real people, such as Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov", can also be viewed as tragic fairytales for adults. "Gogol" is ultimately a Russian opera, and Russian history is a nightmarish fairytale from which this country may never awake.
3) Which character is Gogol in your opera? Is he a tragic person or is he funny?
Gogol was a deeply troubled man, possessed by fears. He became religiously obsessed and began to believe that he brought real evil into this world through his writings. A priest, whom Gogol trusted, ignited these convictions and encouraged Gogol to burn the 2nd and 3rd volume of the "Dead Souls". Gogol's deep seriousness is what allowed him to become a great satire writer. This opera is ultimately tragic but has dark humorous undertones. As an example, Bes (a demon), who is Gogol's adversary, but also in many ways his alter-ego, often ridicules Gogol. Bes' comments can be grotesque, yet they also ring of truth. In a tragically distorted manner, Bes, whom Gogol passionately fights and fears, also represents Gogol's consciousness.
4) First you wrote a play and then the libretto. Why are words not enough? Why do they need music? Which dimension can you express with the music?
The play and the libretto are two separate entities. The play is complete without music. The libretto is an adaptation of the play, specifically crafted to be a partner to the music. Opera is one of the most complete art-forms: music, text, staging, and drama are all part of the whole. As librettist for my own works, I have an ideal collaboration with the composer.
5) In what way is your regional provenance important in your music?Although I have lived half of my life in the West, Russian culture and music are part of my DNA.
6) What do you think is generally characteristic of your music?Let music connect directly to the listener regardless of the composer’s own attempts to interpret its essence. Jorge Luis Borges wrote “A man sets himself in the task of portraying the world. Over the years he fills a given surface with images of provinces and kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fish, rooms, instruments, heavenly bodies, horses, and people. Shortly before he dies he discovers that this patient labyrinth of lines is a drawing of his own face”. Sapienti sat. Cetera desunt.