#Throwback Thursday: Mlada

This week's #Throwback Thursday is a little known Petipa ballet, Mlada.

Mariya Skorsyuk as Cleopatra's shade, 1892 (Rimsky-Korsakov)

The ballet may never have come about if it weren't for the plans of a group of composers known as the 'Mighty Handful'. In 1870, Cesar Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, and Ludwig Minkus started work on an opera-ballet intended to premiere in 1872. Unfortunately, the project was soon abandoned, despite the score being nearly finished. And so Minkus found himself with a score of ballet music which he had been unable to utilise. The solution was found by Marius Petipa, ballet master of the Russian Imperial Theatres, who had been looking for a suitable subject for a new ballet.

Ludwig Minkus

The resulting work, based on the same libretto (by Viktor Krylov) as the failed opera and using Minkus' revised score from the same ill-fated project, was Mlada. It was a ballet fantastique, in four acts and nine scenes. The work was premiered by the Imperial Ballet on 14 December 1879 at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg. The original cast included Eugeniia Sokolova as Mlada, Felix Kschessinsky as Mstivoi, Prince Ratarskii, and Mariia Gorsjenkova as Princess Voislava. It was revived only once, again for the Imperial Ballet, but as a revised version with only six scenes. The premiere was staged at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on October 7 1896, and starred Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Mlada, Felix Kschessinsky as Mstivoi, Prince Ratarskii, Marie Petipa as Princess Voislava, Pavel Gerdt as Yaromir, Prince Arkonskii, Nadezhda Petipa as Sviatokhna, and Alexander Shiraev as the Jester.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The ballet then disappeared from the repertoire, but the subject remained as an opera. One of the composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, used the score he had written for the previous project to finally stage the opera, which finally premiered in 1892. Though it had, as the original idea had demanded, a ballet section (supervised by Petipa's frequent collaborator Lev Ivanov and the extremely influential Enrico Cecchetti), the premiere was not a success and the work did not become a regular part of the repertoire. When it seemed unlikely that the opera was going to be staged again, the setting from the production was reused for Petipa's 1896 revival of his ballet. Unlike Petipa's ballet, however, the opera was popular enough to survive the Russian Revolution of 1917, and is still occasionally performed in Russia today. The production may be found on video presented by the Bolshoi Theatre.

Mathilde Kschessinskaya as the shade of Mlada, 1896 (Petipa)

The libretto for the opera, and (with some exceptions) the ballet, is as follows: the setting is the ninth or tenth century, in the Slavic city of Rethra (in modern-day Germany). Princess Voislava (the daughter of Mstivoi, Prince Ratarskii) has killed Mlada, the bride of Yaromir, Prince Arkonskii. Wishing to have Yaromir for herself, she seeks the aid of Morena, goddess of the underworld, for help, but Yaromir sees the murder in his dreams. The spirit of Mlada begins to interfere between Yaromir and Voislava. Maladies' shade leads Yaromir up Mount Triglav, where the dead are said to gather, by night. There he finds a Witches' Sabbath, and sees a vision of the dead Cleopatra. The next day, at the Temple of Radegast, Yaromir consults the spirits to find out if Voislava is guilty of murdering Mlada. They confirm his suspicion and Voislava confesses her guilt; Yaromir kills her. The goddess Morena, with whom Yaromir has made an agreement, then destroys the temple and the city of Rethra itself, but Yaromir is reunited with Mlada in heaven.

Here's Nina Ananiashvili as Mlada in the 1992 Bolshoi production:

And the entire 1992 production (a reminder that the surviving work is primarily an opera):

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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