EINSTEIN AND MARGARITA
Opera in four acts with preface and epilogue (2004)
Libretto By Vera Pavlova and Iraida Yusupova
in collaboration with Steven Seymour.
New York in mid-1930s. A party at the studio of Sergei Konenkov, a Soviet sculptor; the occasion is an exhibition of his sculptures of famous Americans. All attention is focused on the sculptor’s wife Margarita who is a brilliant socialite and a secret agent of the Soviet intelligence. Thanks to her charm, Konenkov gets more and more clients, while his creative activities serve as a cover for his wife’s spying. But Margarita’s main objective is to establish close ties with Albert Einstein and to get access to secret data related to his scientific research. At the party she becomes acquainted with the scientist; from the outset, she charms him completely. They swirl in a dance; when Margarita sings, Einstein is convinced she does it for him alone.
Konenkov’s studio. The Princeton University has commissioned Konenkov to do a sculpture of Einstein. The scientist is expected to arrive any moment for a sitting session. Margarita is waiting for him; with earphones on, she is leaning over a radio transmitter, while her husband is looking out of the window. Einstein on his bicycle rides up to the gate and rings the bell. The sculptor seats his model and gets to work, quietly singing. From time to time he addresses some phrases to Margarita, asking her to translate them to the scientist, but she pays no attention to her husband, being engrossed in a lively chat with Einstein. Einstein and Margarita play music and sing; he plays violin, she plays piano. Konenkov, carried away by his work, does not notice that Einstein hands over an envelope to Margarita. This is an invitation from Mrs. Elsa Einstein to visit them at their villa on lake Saranac. The unsuspecting husband allows Margarita to spend a weekend with the Einsteins.
A villa on the lake. Einstein is alone and, while waiting for Margarita, he sings a love song. A yacht appears at a distance, and Margarita gets ashore. Ships’ sirens and screaming seagulls accompany their passionate duet. Suddenly Margarita stumbles on a low beach chair; wrapped in a blanket, Elsa is lying in it. She is gravely ill. For a while Margarita and Einstein stand by her, then Einstein gently strokes Elsa’s head, straightens her blanket, and leads Margarita away. In complete loneliness Elsa sings a farewell to life.
Konenkov’s studio. He is alone, playing lyre. Suddenly a woman with a walking cane appears before him. She limps. Her name is Mileva; she is Einstein’s former wife who in the past had collaborated with him, according to some information, on developing the theory of relativity, and had been his dedicated assistant in scientific research. She proceeds to have a fit of madness. In her delirium she sees formulas everywhere. She screams and throws her cane at them. Konenkov is shocked and obediently repeats after her: C E A Es B. The phantom vanishes, but not before telling Konenkov the terrible truth: Margarita is unfaithful to him. With trembling hands Konenkov gropes for a bottle…
Without a sound Margarita enters, carrying a suitcase. She steals behind her husband and playfully shuts his eyes with her hands. The furious sculptor grabs an axe and destroys Einstein’s sculpture. Margarita is angry, but she calms her husband and reminds him of the purpose behind their stay in New York. Isn’t loyalty to their motherland the highest form of faithfulness?
Einstein’s villa. Margarita and Einstein take leave of each other forever. Margarita confesses that she is a Soviet intelligence agent. But Einstein is so deeply in love that he is ready to do anything for her. Without hesitation he writes down the secret formulas and hands them over to Margarita. Margarita tears the papers to shreds: her love for Einstein is so strong that she cannot accept his sacrifice.
Einstein is alone and dying in a hospital ward. In a sorrowful aria he takes stock of his life. The Angel of Death, in the shape of Einstein’s late son, joins him in the last phrase of the aria. The son is here to claim his father. The Angel of Death sings a lullaby, and Einstein recognizes it as Margarita’s song. A choir of angels mourns the deceased and welcomes him to heaven.
On the authors:
This kind of experimentation with the libretto waspossible only given the deep creative affinity and mutual understanding between its co-authors and their creative input. Vera Pavlova is not only a “cult” poet, but also a professional musicologist with a thorough education in composition, while Iraida Yusupova in addition to being a highly versatile composer who works virtually in all musical genres, both academic and non-academic, has been the author, director, and performer of many avantguardist events, a video artist, a script writer and director, a creator of numerous works in the area of video art. The current project is not the first joint work of Iraida Yusupova and VeraPavlova: they have been cooperating for over fifteen years. More recently they have contributed and participated in the “Passions-2000” project, and produced a Christmas miracle play entitled “Shepherds and Angels”. Steven Seymour’s contribution to “Einstein and Margarita” was extremely important: only a man “of two cultures” could serve as a translator who did not simply translate the texts, but also constructed a system of universally recognizable signs of meaning and style. The search for sign correlatives is also at the basis of the “cryptophony” method used in writing the opera’s musical score. As a method of composition cryptophony was developed and formulated in the 1990’s by three composers: Sergei Nevrayev, Ivan Sokolov, and Iraida Yusupova. The symphonic texture of the score is imbued with encrypted equations from the Theory of Relativity, which simultaneously come to life in the running lines of the subtitle.
The opera is written for a large symphony orchestra (with the addition of a saxophone quintet, a piano, a set of percussions, and a theremin-voice), a choir, five vocalists, and several phonograms.
Another important conceptual consideration:
the opera’s subtitle is “a myth opera”. Although essentially the opera is based on real events and characters, the authors have intentionally stayed clear off any semblance of documentary nature. The opera’s plot is phantasmagorical, and the audience cannot be fully certain about anything taking place on the stage. On the one hand the private life of a great scientist, who has become a symbol of an era, was always surrounded by an incredible number of speculations and rumors; on the other, it was always closed to strangers (only some of his private archives have recently become accessible to general public). For this reason, every bit of testimony related to Einstein’s life (be it real, imaginary, or erroneous) is for the authors a mere pretext for fantasies which they weave into an “operatic” plot, for recreating traditional opera models, with their preponderance of powerful passions, dramatic situations, and affirmation of eternal values.