INVESTIGATIONS AND FINDS
Brad Rosenstein, Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva
Staging the Future. Meyerhold and Golovin’s lost production of “The Nightingale”
#4 2019 (65)
On the evening of May 30 1918, opera lovers in Petrograd gathered at the Mariinsky Theatre to attend the Russian premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale” (Le Rossignol/Solovei'). The audience dodged gunfire in the streets to make their way into this jewel box of Russia’s former Imperial Theatres, and what they witnessed on its stage that night was a painful reminder of their own collapsing social world: a satiric fairytale about a dying emperor, surrounded by fawning, buffoonish courtiers and an agitated populace. That Stravinsky’s emperor is saved, at the eleventh hour, by the healing power of art - metaphorized as the song of a nightingale - must have served only to underscore the destabilizing dread of their own recently deposed emperor’s uncertain future: imprisoned at the time of the opera’s Russian premiere, the Imperial family would be executed just six weeks later. It wasn’t merely an unfortunate play of resemblances that jarred. The highly experimental production, directed by Vsevolod Meyerhold and designed by Alexander Golovin, featuring an enormous cast which included the 14-year-old dancer Georgi Balanchivadze (George Balanchine), seemed to play deliberately on tensions between a fading past and an uncertain future, and between fiction and reality.