By Alison CroggonDrama Carriageworks/Sydney Chamber Opera
This ambitious opera tells the true story of Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, who became the bard of the Bolsheviks and committed suicide in 1930. Mayakovsky was a poet, playwright, actor and propagandist; he was passionate about communism, but defeated by its post-revolution reality – and the regime’s assault on art.
The opera stages 18 scenes from Mayakovsky’s life, including his affair with Lilya Brik and his suicide, aged 26; Croggon includes quotations from his poetry and drama in her libretto, giving it a sense of his own voice. She also imagines the figures of Lenin and Stalin.
‘Croggon has artfully kneaded Mayakovsky’s images and ethos into her own, so that the words grab hold of you and turn you towards life,’ writes Peter McCallum in the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Mayakovsky gambles everything for that life and his demise is a metaphor for failed idealism, seen from a future in which “industry has eaten our mountains: the rich are still rich and the poor are still poor.”’
That anyone would attempt to pen an opera based on the life and work of Stalin’s favourite poet is remarkable. That the result could be so lively, witty and thought-provoking is an astonishment. Croggon’s libretto is both formally playful and artistically sincere, invoking the spirit of a revolutionary era while at the same time skewering the vanity of any such historical project. It is neither a biography nor a history, but rather akin to an exorcism, summoning all of the wonder and folly of a century-old futurist project in order that we may recognise its more dangerous ideological underpinnings. That their contours seem strangely familiar today is only one of the lingering effects the work leaves in its wake.
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