Monday, November 7, 2022

didn't know that

I know about Shostakovich's 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. That's the one that Stalin disliked so much he caused an editorial to be published in Pravda titled "Muddle Instead of Music." Its threatening tone - no idle thing in an autocracy - supposedly kept Shostakovich, though loaded with honors, nervous for the rest of his life.

I also knew that the opera was based on a story, which on looking it up I see was written by Nikolai Leskov and published in 1865. And I presumed the title reflected the idea that here was a woman like Lady Macbeth except she lived in this place in Russia.

What was new to me came when I borrowed an obscure library book I needed for an article on Tolkien. It also had an article on Turgenev, whom I've never read and know almost nothing about. And from browsing through this I learned that Leskov's story was part of a trend, because Turgenev had some years earlier written a story called "Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District." And he also wrote one called "King Lear of the Steppes," though that one (undated in the article) may have come later.

And yes, here it's explicit: Turgenev considered Shakespeare's characters to be basic human types, so he wrote about those types recurring. In his "Hamlet," the narrator meets a man whose real name he never learns, and who considers himself an ineffectual nebbish. Just like Hamlet! Or at least one view of Hamlet.

Interesting that there should have been this trend, but I'd never seen it mentioned in connection with the opera.

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