The Fair at Sorochyntsi

The Fair at Sorochyntsi (Russian: Сорочинская ярмарка, Sorochinskaya yarmarka, Sorochyntsi Fair) is a comic opera in three acts by Modest Mussorgsky, composed between 1874 and 1880 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto, which is based on Nikolai Gogol's short story of the same name, from his early (1832) collection of Ukrainian stories Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka. The opera remained unfinished and unperformed at Mussorgsky's death in 1881.

Composition history

Nikolay Gogol

Mussorgsky worked on the opera between 1874 and 1880, in competition with his work on Khovanshchina (18721880); both were incomplete at the time of his death in 1881. He reused some music that he had written previously (such as the "Market Scene" from Act II of the ill-fated Mlada of 1872, used for the opening scene of Fair). Incorporation of the music of Night on Bald Mountain as a dream sequence involving the hero was a late addition to the scenario in the course of composition, despite the fact that such an episode is not suggested by the original story. Although Mussorgsky managed to complete some numbers and even some of the orchestration, significant portions of the scenario were left without any music at all or only in bare sketches.

Several subsequent composers and editors (cited below) played partial or maximal roles in bringing the work into a performable state. The first staged performance, with spoken sections, occurred on 8 October 1913 in Moscow under Konstantin Saradzhev. Beginning in 1917, the first of several fully sung versions reached the stage.

Performance history

Completed versions of the opera took place as follows:

The opera was first performed in England on 24 November 1936 by the British Music Drama Opera Company at Covent Garden, staged by Vladimir Rosing, with Albert Coates conducting.

The Fair at Sorochyntsi is not a part of the standard operatic repertoire in the West. The best-known numbers from Fair are the orchestral Introduction and the closing Gopak. Mussorgsky also arranged the Gopak and the market scene for piano solo.

Sergei Rachmaninoff made an arrangement of the Gopak for piano.

Rimsky-Korsakov's version of Night on Bald Mountain is based mainly on the version included in this opera.

Two of the Ukrainian folk tunes that Mussorgsky incorporated into this opera (Act 1) were used also by Rimsky-Korsakov in his own Christmas Eve, which was likewise based on a story by Gogol.



Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
8 October 1913
Conductor: Konstantin Saradzhev)
Cherevik bass
Khivrya, Cherevik’s wife mezzo-soprano
Parasya, Cherevik’s daughter, Khivrya’s stepdaughter soprano
Kum bass-baritone
Gritsko, a peasant lad tenor
Afanasiy Ivanovich, a priest’s son tenor
The gypsy bass
Chorus, silent roles: Market-women, merchants, Gypsies, Jews, Cossacks, lads, lasses, guests
Intermezzo (Shebalin edition)
Chornobog bass
Chorus, silent roles: Kashchéy, Cherv' (Worm), Chumá (Plague), Topelets, Smert' (Death), demons, witches, dwarfs

Note: The Shebalin edition incorporates the Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (Russian: Сонное видение паробка).


Time: Beginning of the 19th century
Place: The village of Velikiye Sorochyntsі, near Poltava

Act 1

Scene 1: The Fair

Merchants are peddle their wares to crowds of visitors arriving from all around. The Gypsy makes reference to a red jacket that the devil is looking for, while the lad Gritsko woos Parasya. Her father, Cherevik, at first is indignant at this forwardness, but, after realizing that Gritsko is the son of a close friend, he agrees to let Gritsko marry his daughter. The two men go into the tavern to celebrate, as evening settles and the people disperse.

Cherevik and his buddy, Kum, comes out of the tavern in a drunken state. After they wander around in the dark, Khrivya, Cherevik's wife, comes out of their house, and he announces Parasya's engagement. But Khivrya objects, and, while Gritsko overhears, drunken Cherevik concedes that the wedding will not happen. Gritsko, alone, bemoans his sadness. The Gypsy enters, and the two make a pact: Gritsko will give the Gypsy his oxen for fifteen rubles if the latter can make Cherevik change his mind.

Scene 2: Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad (Intermezzo)

Alone, Gritsko falls asleep and has a dream involving witches and devils. They are dispelled by church bells.

Act 2

Kum's Hut

Inside Kum's house, where they are lodging, Khivrya quarrels with Cherevik, getting him to leave, so that she may keep her secret rendezvous with Afanasy Ivanovich, the son of the village priest. When the latter arrives, she offers him her culinary delicacies, which he devours. In the midst of their amorous encounter a knock is heard at the door. Afanasy hides on a shelf, and in walk Cherevik and Kum, with friends, alarmed by a rumor that someone has seen the red jacket and the devil. Kum tells the full story of the red jacket, concluding with the remark that the devil appears every year at the fair with a pig's face, looking for the red jacket. Suddenly a pig's snout is seen in the window, and everyone runs about in confusion.

Act 3

Scene 1: The Street before Kum's Hut

On a street, as a result of the superstitious confusion of the previous scene, Cherevik and Kum are being chased by the Gypsy and some lads. The latter accuse the two older men of stealing a mare, and tie them up. Gritsko enters, extracting a promise from Cherevik to have the wedding to Parasya the next day, and the two older men are released.

Scene 2: The Street before Kum's Hut

On a street in front of Kum's house, Parasya at first is sad about Gritsko, but then cheers herself up with a little hopak, in which Cherevik joins without her noticing. Kum and Gritsko enter, and Cherevik blesses the two lovers, only to be met by Khivrya's rage, which prompts the Gypsy to call on the lads to restrain her. The people celebrate the wedding with a hopak.

Principal arias and numbers

Versions by other hands

In 1881 Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov suggested that Anatoly Lyadov finish the composition of the work, the libretto to be completed by Mussorgsky's old friend Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov. However, Lyadov orchestrated only five numbers (published in 1904) and did not finish the opera. Vyacheslav Karatygin later edited some fragments of Mussorgsky's manuscripts, which were orchestrated by Lyadov and performed in 1911. The next year Vladimir Senilov published his orchestration of Parasya's dumka from Act III. Yury Sakhnovsky edited and orchestrated some fragments which, together with material edited by Lyadov, Karatygin, and Rimsky-Korsakov (i.e., the Night on Bald Mountain music) constituted a staged "premiere" of sorts, performed at the Moscow Free Theatre on 8 October 1913 (Old Style), with spoken dialogue inserted for scenes without music by Mussorgsky.

In commemoration of his late comrade from The Five, César Cui became the first to create a complete version of The Fair at Sorochyntsi during 1914–1916. This fully sung version – but without the Night on Bald Mountain sequence – was staged on 13 October 1917 (Old Style) at the Theatre of Musical Drama in Petrograd. The foreword to Cui's edition, dated October 1916, explains the state of affairs at the time, and translates thus:

The comic opera Sorochyntsi Fair was begun by Mussorgsky in 1875 [sic], was composed slowly and in fragments, and after the composer's death in 1881 remained unfinished. Originally only five excerpts were published: the Introduction to the opera (adapted according to the preliminary draft by A.K. Lyadov), the Lad's Dumka (ed. by Lyadov), the Gopak, the Scene of Khivrya expecting Afanasiy Ivanovich, and Parasya's Dumka (the orchestral edition of all five numbers belongs to Lyadov). Mussorgsky's manuscripts nevertheless still afforded a substantial quantity of musical material, namely, the "scene of the fair" which begins the opera and the first half of the second act. This material was adapted by V.G. Karatygin, supplemented and orchestrated by C.A. Cui. Nevertheless the remainder, in particular the scene of Cherevik and Khivrya and the scene of the Lad and the Gypsy in Act 1, 2nd half, and all of the third [act], with the exception of Parasya's Dumka and the Gopak, is added and orchestrated by C.A. Cui, and consequently Mussorgsky's posthumous labor is completed.

However, Cui's version failed to find a permanent place in the repertory, and the opera was completed and orchestrated again by Nikolai Tcherepnin in 1923 and by Vissarion Shebalin in 1930. Shebalin's version became the standard since then. This also includes the Night on Bald Mountain as a prelude to the third act, instead of an interlude in act one (following Gritsko's Dumka), as Mussorgsky originally planned.


Year Cast:
Afanasiy Ivanovich)
Conductor and Orchestra Version Label[2]
1955 Latko Koroshetz
Bogdana Stritar
Vilma Bukovetz
Miro Branjnik
Slavko Shtrukel
Samo Hubad
Slovenian National Opera
Shebalin LP: Philips,
Cat: A 00329-00330 L
1969 Gennadiy Troytsky
Antonina Kleshchova
Lyudmila Belobragina
Aleksey Usmanov
Yuriy Yelnikov
Yuriy Aranovich
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Shebalin LP: Melodiya,
Cat: D 026823-28;
CD: Melodiya-Eurodisc,
Cat: GD 69126
1983 Vladimir Matorin
L. Zhakharenko
Lidiya Chernikh
Anatoliy Mishchevsky
Vyacheslav Voynarovsky
Vladimir Esipov
Stanislavsky Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Shebalin LP: Melodiya,
Cat: C10 20721 007;
CD: Olympia,
Cat: OCD 114 A/B
1996 Yevgeniy Brazhnik
Yekaterinburg State Academic Opera Theatre Orchestra and Chorus
Shebalin URAL


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