An Adults-Only Scena for Baritone, Brass Quintet and Two Percussion
Ralph Middenway wrote this for Paul & Lyndon Terracini in 1990. The brief was a setting, for baritone and brass quintet, of poetry by Mikhail Lermontov or Aleksandr Pushkin.
But in 1990, when the time came, it seemed there was nothing by either to fill the bill – that is, until he came upon a translation by Walter Arndt of this (in)famous poem of Pushkin’s (first published in1965 in Playboy). The translation, like the original, is outrageously funny, never explicitly vulgar.
Pushkin is an iconic figure after the fashion of Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe and Ibsen. And Rabbie Burns. Pushkin, like Burns, was very attracted by and attractive to women, and each notoriously made the most of it. But Pushkin’s preposterous ribaldry in Tsar Nikita shows him as grand iconoclast rather than mere high-society rake.
The Tsar in Russian society was portrayed as all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, semi-divine.
Aristocratic men expected their brides to be virgins, their wives faithful, but expected their serving women and peasant girls to accept their advances without hesitation.
Priests portrayed women as inherently inferior beings who by means of snares (provided by the Devil) lead inherently superior men astray.
But artists portrayed women as incapable of congress.
Tsar Nikita satirises these hypocritical conventions to such effect that it was banned by the Tsars (for lèse-majesté), the Church (for sacrilege) and even the Communists (for obscenity). But it survived, circulating underground in Russia or collecting dust in a few Western academics’ bottom drawers until public attitudes caught up with Pushkin’s liberal humanism.
This cabaret piece, reworked in 2010, adds two percussionists to the line-up, most often playing marimba and/or vibraphone. The two trumpets double on cornets or flugelhorns; the trombone doubles on tenor tuba. The music isn’t easy, and it’s a big sing, but it’s very colourful. It’s potentially very funny, and in an informal theatrical setting it ought to play well. Its duration is 29 minutes.
So far no-one has been game to programme it.