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The Destiny of Alexander Mossolow’s Opera „The Hero“
[…] Another turn in his fate seems to have been predetermined by the composer’s first opera, The Hero. It seems that the destiny of that score which disappeared, presumed lost, foreshadowed the fate of Mossolow himself, who virtually disappeared from Russian history for half-a-century. There is also one more feature of this score that is strangely associated with some episodes in the life of Mossolow himself – that feature being mystification.
The Hero was written for the chamber opera festival in Baden-Baden, in July 1928. The spirit of the festival must have provoked the composer into choosing a most preposterous story for his opera. The organizers of the festival wished to present “one-act musical compositions based on short and memorable stories”. The previous season of 1927 featured the operas which broke
all records being the shortest and most unusual: Paul Hindemith’s sketch Hin und zurück (12 min) and a “minute” opera by Darius Milhaud L’envelement d’Europe (9 min).
The title of the opera, The Hero, seems to have been chosen in order to mislead the officials of the “ideological front” in the USSR. I fact, the opera is not at all heroic. It is about a Traveller who is to fight a duel. Since the Traveller does not know how to defence, he has to take lessons from the Professor. His teacher, however, is a disillusioned man who decides to put an end to this life. During a lesson, he kills himself by thrusting his chest against his pupil’s sword. The Traveller is trembling with fear. Unexpectedly, the citizens who gather around the Professor’s dead body and see a sword in the Traveller’s hand, cheer him as a brave man and a hero.
The libretto was written by Mossolow himself, although he does not reveal this in the score. The source of the story remains unknown. Erich Doflein, a German scholar, believed that “the scene might have been taken from a short novella by Dostoyevsky”. Mossolow’s friend Yelena Dulova claimed that it was taken from the writings of “Alyosha Tolstoy”. However, it has not been found in either Dostoyevsky or the works of Mossolow’s contemporary, Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy. The story is based on an absurd and amusing situation, reminding us of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose written in the same year. […]