Two of Dmitri Shostakovich´s extravagant compositions provide just one of the many answers to the question what should an opera be when the era of Romanticism finally came to an end. From the ambitious avant-garde opera Orango about a half-human monkey remained just an eloquent fragment. The Anti-formalist Rayok is Shostakovich´s bitterly grotesque protest against the government of fools in the Soviet culture and everywhere else.
When musicologist Olga Digonskaya discovered a 13 page fragment of Shostakovich´s satirical opera of Orango (1932) in 2004, the result was an immediate sensation. This unfinished composition, thought to hae been thrown away by the composer, had actually been stored away by his housekeeper. The history of the piece goes back a long way: in 1932, the Bolshoi Theatre began preparations for the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution. Shostakovich was intrigued by the initial preparations of the new opera about the creation of a hybrid of a human and an ape. As he was working on the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, he was still enthralled with the controversial subject. The work of the librettists was complicated by the ideological supervision; they had to modify and rewrite both the actual text and story several times, adapting the original theme of “Humanity´s moral rebirth during the building up of Socialism” into a “political pamphlet against the bourgeois press”. The result being that they failed to meet the deadlines and the opera was never completed.
Shostakovich began composing this openly political satire in 1948. Similar measures were taken in the cultural as well as the scientific fields. On the basis of the Decree of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party, encompassing fundamental criticism of musical creation, several Soviet composers were accused of anti-social formalism. This was followed by a ban of performing the works of these composers and the threat of material sanctions. In order to be allowed to continue his creative work, he had to offer a “libation” to the communist regime, yet in spite of the pressure, he did not to abandon his style, aesthetics nor piercing view of the world. Rayok is his own therapeutic reaction to the pressures of that period, where he was able to release his inner tension and express his attitude to the fullest, applying unscrupulous hyperbole, in a manner that still made it possible to perform it in private. The composer continued to rewrite and explore the piece well into the 1960´s under other titles (“Rayok”, “The Peep Show” or “Little Paradise”, giving the account of a seminar and the music loving public held at the Palace of Culture.
About the company
As one of the symbols of Czech national identity, the National Theatre is the vessel of the nation’s cultural heritage and at the same time an arena for free artistic creativity. The Czech National Opera continues to develop its vibrant and innovative repertoire made up of classics by Czech and world composers and by new works from innovative composers. The Opera regularly invites international conductors, directors, designers and other artists to cooperate with local artists to create innovative and sometimes controversial new productions.