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ClassicsOnline Home » GLIERE: Red Poppy (The) (Complete Ballet)
"From the Russian orchestra comes everything you'd expect: crisp string playing, shimmering brass and a slight seediness to middle voices, which is an integral part of the picture. Andre Anichanov keeps rhythms fresh and gives his players the freedom to enjoy themselves"
Reinhold Gliere (1875 - 1956)
The Red Poppy
Reinhold Gliere (Reyngol'd Moritsevich
Glier), a Soviet composer of Belgian descent, was born in Kiev in 1875, the
son of a maker of wind instruments. He played the violin and wrote music at home
and studied for three years at the Kiev Conservatory before entering the Moscow
Conservatory in 1894. There he studied the violin with Hfimaly and composition
with Taneyev, taking lessons in harmony from Arensky and his pupil Konyus and
in orchestration from Ippolitov-Ivanov. He completed his studies in 1900 with a
one-act opera- oratorio after Byron, Zemlya i nebo (Earth and Heaven).
Gliere's first employment was as a
teacher at the Gnesin Music School, and he was
to spend the summer holidays of 1902 and 1903 as tutor to the eleven- year-old
Prokofiev. For two years from 1905 he studied conducting with Oscar Fried in Berlin, making his
first appearance as a conductor in Russia in 1908, while his
compositions continued to make a favourable impression. In 1913 he returned to Kiev to teach the
composition class at the Conservatory, of which he became director in the
following year. In 1916 his former pupil Prokofiev appeared as soloist in Kiev in his own
first piano concerto under the direction of Gliere.
From 1920 until his retirement in 1941
Gliere taught composition at the Conservatory in Moscow. He showed
particular interest in the music of the various ethnic minorities of the Soviet
Union, making a detailed study of the music of Azerbaijan that bore fruit in
his opera Shakh-Senem, written in 1924 and performed in Russian in Baku
three years later, followed by staging in Azerbaijan in 1934. His musicological
investigations extended to Uzbekistan and other Soviet
republics, while the more familiar music of the Ukraine provided him
with another native source of inspiration.
During his career G1iere occupied a number
of official positions. In the early years of the Revolution he headed the music
section of the Moscow Department of Popular Education and was Chairman of the organizing
committee of the Union of Soviet Composers from 1938 unti11948. His work was
officially recognised by various state awards, including the title of People's
Artist, bestowed in 1938. He died in Moscow in 1956.
As a composer Gliere followed the Russian
romantic tradition, something that brought him official praise in 1948 when the
music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich was condemned. In particular his ballet
music proved popular. The Red Poppy, later known, to avoid the
connotation of opium, as The Red Flower , satisfied political
choreographic demands and became a well known part of ballet repertoire from
1926 onwards, while the later ballet The Bronze Horseman, completed in
1949, also retained its place in Soviet repertoire.
The Red Poppy (Krasnj mak),
1ibretto and original decor by M. Kurilko and choreography by Lev Lashchilin
and Vasily Tikhomikov, was first staged at the Bolshoy Theatre on 14th June
1927, when Ekaterina Geltser danced Tao- Hoa and Aleksey Bulgatov the heroic
Captain. Set in a Chinese port, the story of the ballet is simply told. The
dancer Tao-Hoa falls in love with the captain of a Soviet cargo ship, to whom
she gives a red poppy. Li-Shan-Fu, her manager, plots to kill the captain by
having her give him poisoned tea, but she refuses. Later, in a coolie uprising,
she saves the life of the captain and is later killed in a coo1ie uprising by a
bullet from Li-Shan-Fu. She hands a red poppy to a little Chinese girl, as she
dies, a sign of love and of freedom. Scope is given for divertissements in the
second act, a dream-sequence, set in an opium den. Here Tao-Hoa sees a Golden
Buddha, ancient goddesses, butterflies, birds and flowers.
The ballet starts with an appropriate
introduction, suggesting a Chinese setting with its pentatonic melodic
material. A more ominous mood appears, suggesting the oppression to which the
coolies, dock-workers are subjected, tyranny and suffering that will lead to
their revolt. The dancing-girl Tao-Hoa enters, in a more lyrical atmosphere.
The restaurant itself has a cosmopolitan clientele, represented in the various
dances that follow, including a Boston Waltz and finally leading to the
entrance of the Russian captain and the dance of his sailors. The love of the
couple is established in Tao-Hoa's scene and variation, followed by a coolies'
victory dance and a celebratory dance by the Russian sailors.
The second act is set in an opium den.
Here there is a dance of Chinese women and an Adagio for the four
goddesses of ancient times. Tao-Hoa dreams of the Buddha, of the fabulous
phoenix of legend and of the ship of her beloved.
Reality returns with a Charleston and a dance
in the restaurant, with preparations for the Chinese theatre, followed by an Umbre/1a
Dance, a Puppet Dance, with xylophone, and a Chinese Acrobat
Dance. The coolie uprising is plotted and in this the captain is only saved
by the intervention of Tao-Hoa, allowing him to sail away with his men. In the
aftermath Tao-Hoa is shot, to hand a red poppy to a little girl, as she dies.
The flower, by its colour, symbo1izes communism, which will bring freedom to
the oppressed, a sign of hope of abetter world, expressed in the well known Internationale,
the Communist anthem.
The Red Poppy, its name
changed to The Red Flower in 1957, was greeted with some acclaim at its
first staging. It seemed innovative, with a clear and acceptable political
message, fulfilling the aims of the Soviet cultural establishment. Musically
the libretto presented the composer with a number of problems. While the
oriental setting provided an exotic background, enabling Gliere to make use of
characteristic pentatonic melodies, there were inevitable juxtapositions of
other musical material, associated with colonial oppression or with the gallant
Russian sailors and their captain. It might, therefore, be suggested that the
work as a whole lacks something of the unity that might have been found in a
more traditional ballet. Whatever reservations might be held about the score,
Gliere certainly won lasting success with The Red Poppy, of which
excerpts, such as the Russian Sailors' Dance, have become very familiar.
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GLIERE: Red Poppy (The) (Complete Ballet)