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Victory Over the Sun (1913)
Mikhail Matyushin & Kazimir Malevich & Alexei Kruchenykh
Excerpts from the cubo-futurist opera, Pobeda nad Solntsem, 1913.
Arranged By, Performer, Engineer [Restored] – Julia Dmitriukova
Engineer – Andrey Zachesov
Producer – Dmitrij Nikolaev (RTR Radio Russia)
Vocals – Alexander Tereshko, Igor Verov, Ludmila Shuyskaya, Olga Sirina
Production Date – 2006
Victory over the Sun, the first futurist opera, was performed on December 3 and 5, 1913 at the Luna Park Theatre in St. Petersburg, with a libretto by Alexei Kruchenykh, prologue by Velimir Khlebnikov, music by Mikhail Matyushin and sets and costumes by Kazimir Malevich. This opera was considered as a work of "total art", a "theatre of integration" , it was one of the first examples of "performance art" and "multidisciplinary collaboration". The aim of Victory overthe Sun was none other than a "Victory over the Past" which, in Matyushin's words, is "the victory over the ancient, deep rooted concept that the Sun equals beauty", a world-illusion represented by "old romanticism and empty charlatanism". The opera follows a band of "Futurecountrymen" who set out to conquer the Sun with the Aviator as their new futurist hero. He, defeating gravity, manages to conquer it. That is why for the author of the text, Kruchenykh, "The basic theme of the opera is a defence of technology, in particular of aviation, and the victory of technology over cosmic forces and over biologism" - which at that time was represented by Symbolism. The opera was proposed by the Union of Youth who wanted to show the "First Futurist Theatre" but who, after paying large sums of money for the hire of the theatre and the production, ran into financial difficulties - with the result that they had to do without an orchestra. The composer, Mikhail Matyushin, then only had a broken out of tune piano - supplied on the day of the performance - and a chorus of seven people, three of whom could actually sing . On stage, Matyushin also added noises, such as rifle shots, propeller sounds, machine noises and the "unusual sound" of a plane crashing. For the musical parts, we have only 27 bars in which, on the one hand, Matyushin takes his inspiration from folk songs, and on the other, he tends to break with tonality, introducing harmonic dissonances and quarter-tones. Malevich encountered similar constraints with the staging and costumes, so the sets were curtains painted with geometric forms and no perspective and the costumes were made from cardboard and iron thread in simplified cubic, cylindrical and conical shapes. The stage and the figures had to be painted in black and white because there were no coloured varnishes, but this inconvenience was compensated for by the Luna Park Theatre's mobile lighting system, one of the first of its kind in the world, which could be used to create innovative visual effects - a kind of "pictorial stereometry" - by decomposing the figures with spotlights, depending on whether it lit hands, feet or heads. The libretto, written by Alexei Kruchenykh, in places introduced a new language for the future which destroyed the laws of syntax: Zaum (language of the "beyond-mind"), which he and Khlebnikov invented and which is impossible to translate. He advised the actors to read this in a breathless way "with a pause after every syllable". The opera is composed of 2 acts in 6 scenes with a prologue written by Khlebnikov, which he was supposed to have read himself before the opera began, but because of his shyness, Kruchenykh read it instead. Act 1 deals with the arrest of the Sun, and includes the "Bully's song", a sound poem with one comprehensible line: "Keep your arms before dinner, after dinner and while eating buckwheat mush". Act 2 deals with life in the "Tenth Land of the Future" once the Sun has been removed, and includes the song Petite Bourgeoisie (a manifesto of struggle against petite bourgeoisie in the field of art). The act ends with a triumphant Military song by the Aviator in zaum using only consonants. According to witnesses, the opening night of the opera was the scene of a great scandal, with half the theatre shouting "Down with the Futurists!" and the other half "Down with the Scandalists!". When the audience demanded the author come on stage, Folkin, the theatre director, announced from the box: "They've taken him to the lunatic asylum!".
I I I kKrkr tIp tlmt kr vd t r kr vubr du du ra I k b i zhr vida diba[transcription by Gerald Janecek]
Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)