On April 8, The Latvian National Opera and Ballet in Riga presents the world premiere of the ballet “Scheherazade and Her Tales,” set to music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Zoltan Kodaly.
The work was choreographed by the renowned Serbian choreographer and dancer Leo Mujic.
Mujic has cooperated with ballet ensembles and theatres around the world, including the Stuttgart Ballet, Volksoper Wien, Komischesoper Berlin, Tokyo City Ballet, Capezio Center New York, SBBS Zurich, Hungarian National Theatre, Croatian National Theatre, and many others.
Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian composer and a master of orchestration, wrote of his Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite Op.35, which he based on the legendary queen and the storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights.
“I meant these hints to direct but slightly alter the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had travelled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each,” he wrote.
When Mujic was creating “Scheherazade and Her Tales,” he intended to maintain the basic idea Rimsky-Korsakov had when he talked about a personal approach to the themes, the freedom of interpretation, and the respect for abstraction.
“Apart from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s beautiful music, the question I asked myself was: what are the reasons for performing this ballet today?” said Mujic.
“I wanted to emphasize the essence of a narrative ballet, which is formed by characters and their relationships. To do that, every character I created gained one characteristic so that when combined, the figures that rise from the sand and pave their journey to the Silk Road, forming a complete entity.”
Mujic intended this ballet to be not only about the stories everyone knows Scheherazade told; Mujic is interested in the untold story of Scheherazade destiny as well.
“Within that, I want to explore the position of women in society, in the Middle East, by following her heart, mind, wishes, and desires,” said Mujic.
In Sir Richard Burton’s translation of “The Nights,” Scheherazade is described as being pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.
In Rimsky-Korsakoff’s autobiography, “My Musical Life,” he states that the origins of the stories comprising “The Thousand and One Nights” are shrouded in many secrets and riddles.
Europe was introduced to “The Thousand and One Nights” through French orientalist and archaeologist Antoine Galland (1646–1715), whose French translation of the collection spanned 12 volumes, which were published in Paris between 1704 and 1717.
Galland’s translation was based on a 15th century Arabic text of the Syrian recension, but several of the more popular stories from the French edition — such as “Aladdin’s Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” — are not found in other sources, so some believe that he wrote them himself.
And although the Muslim world has often considered Scheherazade and her stories with disdain, her tales have inspired writers and philosophers in Europe and America since the 18th century: Voltaire’s “Candide” (1758) makes numerous references to Sinbad’s nautical adventures; Edgar Allan Poe offers his version of Scheherazade’s fate in his “The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade,” as does Robert Louis Stevenson in his “New Arabian Nights.”
The protagonists of Stephen King’s “Misery” and Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” frequently liken themselves to Scheherazade, as they are forced to tell tales in order to survive. Scenes from “The Thousand and One Nights” unexpectedly crop up in numerous paintings, films, comics, operas, computer games, and animated movies — and, of course, also in numerous musical compositions.
Various folklore motifs from various cultures frequently played notable roles in Rimsky-Korsakov’s rich musical oeuvre (15 operas, three symphonies, numerous orchestral pieces, several books on music).
They also inspired his Op. 35, Scheherazade, a symphonic suite first performed on Oct. 22, 1888 in St. Petersburg. Scheherazade is considered one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most popular works, and has been recorded countless times.
The ballet adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was first performed on June 4, 1910, at the Opera Garnier in Paris. It was presented as a choreographic drama choreographed by Michel Fokine, and performed within Sergei Diaghilev’s “Russian Season” program. The adaptation had been inspired by Joseph Charles Mardrus’ (1899–1904) decadent translation that was so erotic that even Marcel Proust’s mother forbade her son from reading it. The vibrant set and costumes of that first production were designed by Leon Bakst, astounding and creatively inspiring the world of French fashion at the time. “Scheherazade” premiered at the Latvian National Opera (with Fokine’s choreography and produced by Andris Liepa) on February 25, 1998.
The program by which Rimsky-Korsakoff was guided in composing Shekherazada consisted of separate, unconnected episodes and pictures from “The Arabian Nights,” scattered through all four movements of his suite: the sea and Sinbad’s ship, the fantastic narrative of the Prince Kalender, the Prince and the Princess, the Bagdad Festival and the ship dashing against the rock with the copper rider upon it.
Performances of “Scheherazade and Her Tales” at the Latvian National Opera and Ballet are scheduled for April 8 (Friday), April 9 (Saturday), April 27 (Wednesday), and May 29 (Sunday). All performances commence at 19:00.
Chief Conductor of the Latvian National Opera Martins Ozolins conducts the World Premiere performance. Set designer, Dinka Jericevic. Costume designer, Manuela Paladin Sabanovic.
Tickets can be purchased from the website of the Latvian National Opera and Ballet, www.opera.lv