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The Sunday Opera: Tchaikovsky's "Cherevichki" based on Gogol's "Christmas Eve"

Our Christmas Opera this year on The Sunday Opera (12/24 3:00 p.m.) is one by Tchaikovsky that seems to have been overlooked by many. The title is “Cherevichki” which has been translated in many ways including “The Slippers” “The Little Shoes,” “The Tsarina's Slippers,” “The Empress's Slippers,” “The Golden Slippers,” and “The Little Slippers” among others.

The work is a delightful fantasy that is very much in the European tradition at Christmas time, and it’s based on the story "Christmas Eve" which is part of the 1832 collection of short stories entitled “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka” by Nikolai Gogol. The opera is a revision of Tchaikovsky's earlier opera “Vakula the Smith” and was first performed in 1887 in Moscow. The source material was also used by Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera “Christmas Eve” which has also been heard on The Sunday Opera. 

It is Christmas Eve, and Vakula is in love with Oksana, but it’s a difficult relationship because he accidentally attacks her father, Chub, whom he doesn’t recognize because he is covered with snow after returning home in a blizzard.

To try to appease Oksana, Vakula decides that he will somehow travel to St. Petersburg to get her the Tsarina’s slippers as a Christmas gift.

There is a bit of a problem, however. Vakula has upset the devil because he drew unflattering pictures of him on the wall of the church. The devil then tries to woo Vakula’s mother, Solokha, a witch, and get her to steal the moon so that the lovers will not be able to be romantic. The devil’s plans are complicated because as he is wooing Solokha, three other of her suitors, including Chub, visit her. She gets them to all climb into large sacks, and when Vakula returns home, Solohka tasks him with getting rid of the sacks which he removes from the house.

Before he can go too far, he runs int a group of carolers, one of whom is Oksana. She scolds Vakula and threatens him by saying that she won’t marry him unless he gets the slippers. Vakula then runs away with one of the sacks, and as he goes, he threatens suicide.

The sack he is carrying contains the devil, and apparently, when one captures the devil in a sack, one can control him which Vakula does. He flies through the night sky on the devils back, arrives in St. Petersburg, and charms the Tsar and Tsarina with his story, winning the shoes.

He returns home just as the morning bells are ringing in Christmas morning, and everyone rejoices.

Our cast, in this excellently produced live recording, includes Ekaterina Morosova, Valery Popov, Albert Schagidllin, and Ludmila Semcluk and they’re joined by the Chors and Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico di Caligari with Gennedi Roshdestvensky conducting.

After the opera we’ll have more music for Christmas including carols performed by Camellia Johnson, Roberto Alagna, and the Bowie Brass as well as the charming “A Carol Symphony” of Victor Hely-Hutchinson performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gavin Sutherland.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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