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A Dog’s Heart, the opera by the French Russian-born composer Alexander Raskatov has been created with a rare success at the Muziektheater of Amsterdam in 2010, and then performed in London at the English National Opera at La Scala and will have eventually its French premiere in Lyon on 20th January 2014. While the original novel Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov which inspired Raskatov was a satire of the new Soviet Man and had a happy ending, the Soviet Union has since collapsed and the opera ends on a pessimistic note. ResMusica met with Alexander Raskatov to discuss the new message he wanted to convey with his opera, and what he says about our own society.
“The world is so pitiless, we became all tough to each other”
ResMusica: Your opera A Dog’s Heart and The Nose by Dimitri Shostakovich are both satirical works which met a great success at the same time. Do you think that you benefited from the recent appreciation of The Nose?
Alexander Raskatov : This is an interesting question, I never thought about it. I like The Nose very much, but still I don’t think there is a thread from The Nose to me. What is similar is the source, Gogol for The Nose and Bulgakov for The Heart’s Dog, with crazy stories which are so sarcastic. Bulgakov come from Gogol, and they come from Mussorgsky and the opera Khovanshchina he never completed. The sarcasm, the irony is from there.
RM: The orchestration sounds like-minded with The Nose…
AR: The story called for this type of orchestration, for instance the balalaika is in the novel and I had to use it. In this sense it reminds of The Nose. If the audience feel there is a correspondence with a work by Shostakovich composed 100 years ago, I would be pleased, but there are differences. I could not go in the same direction of buffamenta as in the Nose, and I wanted to emphasize the different points of view of the characters. Professor Philipp, who creates the dog Sharik into a human being is not so positive, and we have pity for the dog as, once he became a man under the name of Sharikov, he is forbidden to have his wife. But he has his rights to live. And the clones of Sharik who are going to eat us are very different from the optimistic ending of the The Nose and of the Bulgakov’s novel.
RM: Does this link to Russian operas explain the success of your opera?
AR: It would be very easy to say this success comes from Russian traditional operas, and I would be very honoured, very proud if this tradition is still living, but I would prefer to find my own source. In this opera I don’t belong to this small elite who search for searching. I hope I was not populist, opera is a genre of large communication.
RM: What does Sharikov and his clones represent to you?
AR: This is probably very pessimistic but they represent the danger we see every day on our planet. We are losing our culture, we see an invasion of people who want to “eat” our civilisation, like in my opera.
RM: What do you mean by civilisation? Do you mean a specific country?
AR: This has not to do only with Russia, I did not mean one country or two, I mean humanity. The world is so pitiless, we became all tough to each other. The news are full of murders, we watch horrible movies about money, blood, sex. I understand that life covers all spectrum of the existence, but we only look for bad news and this increases every day.
RM: You paint a very dark picture of today’s world, but was XXth century any better, with its World Wars and its genocides?
AR: Of course we don’t have the same things, but Stalin did not kill everybody, he selected the people, and this changed the colours of the country. We don’t have today in Russia the quality of people that we had before Stalin. People migrated, others were killed and let themselves died, and nobody survived but the denunciators or their relatives. Also in Germany the destruction of intellectual people was a tragedy. If Bulgakov was living today, he would have written a different end to his novel, and it would not be an idyllic one.
RM: How this opera was commissioned?
AR: I got this commission from the Dutch National Opera in autumn in 2008 and it was created in summer 2010. Pierre Audi gave me carte blanche, this was my condition. I chose this novel, and I was told I would get some help from George Edelman, who in turn put me in contact with Cesare Mazzonis who had been artistic director at la Scala 25 years ago and knows Bulgakov by heart. He wrote the libretto in Italian, Edelman translated it in Russian, and then I had to work on it as certain parts did not work. I had a lot of help from Elena Vassileva on the libretto. The ending and the dog who sings with two voices, one unpleaseant and one more pleasant are my ideas. We had a lot of fun !