September 28, 2009 / 1:15 PM / 9 years ago

Britain's Royal Opera to stage rare Tchaikovsky opera

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain’s Royal Opera House will stage a rarely performed Tchaikovsky opera over the Christmas period which director Francesca Zambello called the Russian composer’s “best kept secret.”

“The Tsarina’s Slippers” (Cherevichki) will run from November 20 to December 8 at Covent Garden, combining the royal opera and ballet companies which share the premises.

“It will come as a surprise to many that there is a Tchaikovsky opera that is not commonly performed,” Zambello told reporters on Monday surrounded by stage designs and costumes for the comedy.

“It’s absurd that opera companies and ballet companies share the same buildings all over the world and yet we barely talk to each other,” added the American, whose works have been staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, The Bolshoi in Moscow and on Broadway with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

When the opera, based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Christmas Eve,” first appeared in 1876 under the title “Vakula the Smith” it was “a big old flop,” according to Zambello.

Nearly 10 years later Tchaikovsky revisited the work and it enjoyed greater success.

Zambello said the opera was rarely performed by big opera houses, but its blend of humor, romance and fairy tale could turn it into a “Christmas classic” in Western repertory.

“I think there are a lot of works by composers that have been brought to light in the last 20 years,” she told Reuters.

“When you think of Puccini and ‘La Rondine’, and there are a number of Verdi works that we always thought were obscure and suddenly now are standard repertory — this is one of those Tchaikovsky pieces that will, I believe, become part of the operatic canon.”


The Tsarina’s Slippers tells the story of the blacksmith Vakula, son of the witch Solokha, who attempts to woo the beautiful but fickle Oxana.

She will only marry him if he brings her the Tsarina’s own slippers from the court of Catherine the Great, and so Vakula enlists the help of the Devil to gatecrash a ball in St. Petersburg and bring his beloved what she desires.

Zambello said the production was part of her drive to bring opera, often seen as an elite art form, to a wider audience.

“It’s a comedy, a light story, a story that has a lot of joy,” she said in an interview. “I am actively interested in pursuing opera for as wide an audience as possible.

“I think it’s important to create pieces that are for families or for children or for new audiences, whether we are presenting obscure works and making them more accessible or new works or presenting the classics in situations where they can be seen by everyone.”

Zambello’s production of “Carmen” by Georges Bizet returns to Covent Garden on Saturday with a performance open to readers of Britain’s top-selling Sun tabloid, with tickets on offer for between 7.50 and 30 pounds ($12-48).

The Royal Opera House has also expanded its partnerships with cinemas showing opera performances, both live and recorded.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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