Last Updated: Mar. 27, 2000
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Boyarinya Vera Sheloga

Opera in One Act


N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov


English translation by Stephen Muir


[A front room. In the background is the door to the porch; to the right are two windows looking into the garden; one of them is open -- a few cherry tree twigs are poking through it. To the left is a half-open door; through the door is a table with a small casket sitting on it; in front of the open window stand a lace-frame and two chairs with richly carved backs. It is morning.]

Scene i

[Nadezhda and Vlasevna, then Vera. Nadezhda is sitting at the lace-frame; Vlasevna stands at the table and unlocks the casket. Nadezhda is dressed in a sarafan; her hair is plaited. Vlasevna is dressed in a tunic and an ornate peasant's head scarf.]

Vlasevna: [Speaks with many diminutives] Look, boyarishnya dear, what a fine string of beads! Look, see how the pearls glint, like a rose in the grass. Not just a queen would wear such a string of pearls, but the Tsarina herself. To be sure! [Moves towards Nadezhda] We'll add them to your silky hair. [Tries the pearls on her] How's that for a head-dress! You yourself are like a pearl in a head dress, or an aquamarine gemstone. There is no beauty in the whole of Pskov to compare with you, apart from your sister.

Nadezhda: [In deep thought] Do you know what is troubling my sister, nanny?

Vlasevna: [Places the string of pearls on the lace-frame and sighs] I know in my bosom what the real reason is… Her husband has not returned, that's what's troubling her; they've been apart for a long time, and a young wife is unhappy without her husband.

Nadezhda: She is so sad, so downcast, that she hardly utters a word. She sits all day singing lullabies and kissing Olenka.

Vlasevna: Hey, Nadezhda! When you are married, then you'll find out how easy it is to love a husband and fuss over a child so. Just you wait! Your fiancé Prince Yuri will return from battle with the boyarin; weeping or no weeping, I shall soon be unplaiting your hair.

Nadezhda: You would weep if your betrothed were unattractive.

Vlasevna: Prince Yuri! What is wrong with you?! Heaven forgive you! Most girls would seize such a Prince with both hands. He used to go along the street -- his horse, now there's a beast for you, snorting and dancing, even rearing up; but he sat there like a hawk, not caring one iota, but just straightened his sable cap and shook his curls. And he looks after us all in our homes. But you say he's unattractive! [Slaps her knees] I'm an idiot, yes an idiot! And it never occurred to me that you've been leading me up the garden path. Have you been complimenting your fiancé like that for long?

Nadezhda: I was joking.

Vera: [Off-stage] Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye!

Nadezhda: Oh, Olenka has woken up! We must have woken her.

Vera: Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye!

Vlasevna: Let's leave your pearls, and go down to the cellar. [Puts down the string of pearls and exits by the porch door]

Vera: Hush-a-bye, hush-a-bye!


Vera: [Off-stage] Hush-a-bye, my little one,
Hush-a-bye, for day is done!
Do you know what day will bring?
Morning dew and flowers of spring,
Birds above will sing their song
After winter cold and long.

Hush-a-bye, my little one,
Hush-a-bye, for day is done!
Nightingale, oh nightingale!
Leave your shady woodland vale:
Fly into our garden fair,
Build your nest and tarry there.

Hush-a-bye, my little one,
Hush-a-bye, for day is done!
You may pick our berries red,
Or the sweet green leaves instead.
Flutter, round our garden walls,
Sing your song when darkness falls.

Hush-a-bye, my little one,
Hush-a-bye, for day is done!

Scene ii

[Nadezhda and Vera]

Nadezhda: [Vera enters the front room] Has Olenka fallen asleep to your song?

Vera: Yes. But what were you laughing at?

Nadezhda: It was Vlasevna and I. She was extolling the virtues of the Prince, and I was insulting him.

Vera: Your fiancé?

Nadezhda: It was in jest.

Vera: But do you love in jest?

Nadezhda: I don't know whether or not I love him… When he was here I was afraid of him, but now he has gone it's as if I have begun to miss him. I'll just have a quick look now -- but they're nowhere to be seen. When will they return? It's time to make them happy for a while.

Vera: [Casting her eyes down] It's time.

Nadezhda: Has your husband been away serving under Kolyvan for long?

Vera: Yes, for a long time.

Nadezhda: And he has never seen Olga, sister dear?

Vera: [Gasps for breath] No…

Nadezhda: Oh how he will take comfort, how he will smother Olenka in warm kisses!

Vera: Be quiet, be quiet! Don't wound me so!

Nadezhda: Lord be with you, Vera!

Vera: [Falls to her knees] Sister, sister, I have cheated my husband; my baby is not his child.

Nadezhda: [Lifts Vera up] My darling sister, that's enough; cross yourself! what are you saying? Come to your senses!

Vera: [Sinks down on to a chair] I shall come to my senses in my grave. [Nadezhda tries to embrace her] Don't come near me, don't defile yourself; I am a sinner, I have broken my vows.

Nadezhda: My friend, my sister, don't break my heart… [Embraces and kisses Vera]

Vera: No, I have no friend, no sister!

Nadezhda: God will forgive you, pray to him.

Vera: Nadezhda, I cannot atone for my sins, I cannot obtain forgiveness from God through weeping! I cannot wash away my accursed love from my soul, I cannot wipe the accursed kisses of my lover from my cheeks!

Nadezhda: Tears are worth something to the Lord.

Vera: I know my destiny. And now I know what to do… When my husband comes home, I shall hand him an axe, and say: "I have come to bid farewell to you. I became tired of your habits and routines; I found myself a younger friend, and even laughed at your grey hair. Oh master, find for yourself a better, a purer friend, and cleave from me my shame and my head!"

Nadezhda: Ah, Vera! How can your tongue produce such sinful talk? A Tartar would not murder his wife so, and your Ivan Semyonich is a Christian. He'll threaten you, he'll get angry, but then he'll grieve for a while and forgive you.

Vera: I do not need forgiveness and mercy! I am no wife to my husband, and can never be so. I love another, and you could not even cut the love for this man out of my heart with a knife. [Embraces Nadezhda] Oh, do not reproach me; you too would have fallen in love if, in troubled times, he had caught you in his penetrating gaze and charmed you with his tender words; you too would have brought sin upon your soul.

Nadezhda: So who is he?

Vera: Don't ask, Nadezhda! My tongue is dried up. Even in my whispered prayers I am afraid to utter the desired word, to call him by his name. [Grasps Nadezhda's hand] Listen! It is my sin talking; I am powerless to keep quiet. So torment yourself and listen.

Nadezhda: [Bows her head on Vera's shoulder] Don't worry, I am not ashamed; I'm no longer a young girl.

Vera: Listen, then. I was married against my will, but got used to it eventually… Ivan Semyonich doted on me. So we lived together until Springtime. In the Spring, we heard that preparations were being made for war against the Germans. My husband was aggrieved that we would have to part. He went off into the field… Then a messenger came galloping: "We have beaten the Germans; God has given us victory. The Tsar will visit Pskov and will meet with us." The Tsar came, he met with us, but not my husband: he stayed to keep watch in Kolyvan. Taking my maid with me, I went loyally to the Pechersky Monastery to pay my homage. Have you been to the monastery?

Nadezhda: The Pechersky Monastery? No, I haven't.

Vera: The road there is wooded, and the woods are dense. Birch and asp branches were intertwined and mingled like hair, the sun reflected fleetingly on young bushes; moss lay underfoot, like a silky carpet, and ahead the trees grew thicker and thicker, darker and darker, beckoning you towards them. I thought I heard a cuckoo cuckooing somewhere, only far off. I thought I'd try to get closer. God will tolerate my sins for a long time. I shouted "A-oo" and carried on further. Unfortunately my cuckoo was silent. Now I really didn't know which way to go; I found paths whichever direction I looked. I cried out, and, hark, someone answered. I ran and ran quickly towards the voice. I wasn't running out of the woods, but right into them. It was a deep forest, a miserable place! And the branches snatched at my dress like outstretched arms. Seized with fear, I stumbled and fell unconscious.

Nadezhda: How did you manage to survive? It sounds terrifying.

Vera: It was not a terrible fear, but a terrible sin, Nadyozha! So, where was I… I don't know… As if in a dream I heard shouts, horn calls. I regained consciousness later, it was already dusk… I'm in some kind of tent. I see that there's a rug laid over me, and damask pillows under my head. I'm covered in a brocade cloth. Dogs are barking all around me, horses are neighing, people are talking.

Nadezhda: What is all this? Were the boyars on a hunt?

Vera: He, he… I lift my head and get up. And I see one of the boyars, I hear his voice flowing -- such bearing, such shoulders, so tall!.. He says to me: "Tell me if you are a married woman or a beautiful maiden! We can take you home." I am silent. His eyes flashed and he went out, and I don't remember how they got me home.

Nadezhda: Vera! Do you know what? I too would have fallen in love!

Vera: Nadya! Well, tell me, how could you not love such a man? It tears my soul from my body… Listen!

Nadezhda: [Listens confusedly] What is it? [The distant sound of trumpets is heard] Trumpets!

Vera: Let them trumpet themselves. It is better to listen to my tale to the end. I awoke during the night in bed. My heart felt so sweetly oppressed, my body shivered like sparks, my plait was undone, my bed was spinning, my eyes were circles of fire. I leapt up, opened the window, sighing with all my bosom. In the garden I could smell roses and dill, and beneath the window in the grass a grasshopper was singing. But he was there, and came round the corner, whispering: "Hey, young woman! Won't you look at me with those tender eyes? Won't you beckon with your white hand? Let me into your chamber!" I swayed a little, and hit my shoulder on the door-frame, shivering as if in a fever. I wanted to say: "Go away, accursed!" But I murmured: " Climb in quickly!" [She buries her head in her hands and weeps] I'm sure God was tempting me into sin. [Trumpets are heard. Nadezhda looks out of the window. Vera stands up] Yes, that's it! He has torn my heart from my breast, has struck me to the ground like a wingless swallow out of its nest, and has gone away. [Walks around the room] He took a wife -- Nastasya is her name, Romanovna her patronymic. If only I could have her round as a guest, I'd… But I can't reach her -- my hands are tied.

[The trumpets are nearer still]

Nadezhda: [Jumping away from the window in alarm] It's them, it's them, Ivan Semyonich and the Prince!

Vera: My husband?

Nadezhda: Run, my darling sister! I won't let them in. [Throws herself against the door to the porch]

Vera: [Wringing her hands] Oh mother, don't betray me! Let me take Olenka away -- he'll kill her! [Runs to the door on the left]

Nadezhda: Quick, quick! The gates are opening! Quick! They're climbing the stairs. Quick, quick!

Vera: Leave me, leave me!

Scene iii

[The door to the porch opens; on the threshold boyarin Sheloga and Prince Tokmakov appear, both dressed in chain mail and helmets]

Prince Tokmakov: Greetings!

Boyarin Sheloga: Greetings! Were you expecting different guests? [Removes his helmet]

[Vera stands in the side door in a frenzy, as if to block her husband's path]

Did you not recognize your husband? It seems that fighting the Germans has turned me into a German. Greetings, Vera! Let us kiss; it seems like you have pined for a year! [Tries to embrace her]

Vera: [Jumps away from him] Don't touch the child!

Boyarin Sheloga: Our house be blest! Child? Which child? [Takes a step forward]

Vera: [Runs to the window] Get away from me! I'll throw myself out of the window!

Boyarin Sheloga: Dear God! Is it possible that I have happened upon a mortal sin? Woman!.. Whose is the child?

Nadezhda: [Falls to her knees] Mine!

[CURTAIN (falls slowly)]

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