Improvisation revives classics for modern day

Having heard a student moan that they hate Pushkin, seeing him as boring, I’ve given much thought as to why classical writers are failing to ignite a spark within our modern readers
By Tatiana Tovstonogova

Some might say that our writing legends’ themes are no longer relevant today, making them difficult to understand, or that their language is outdated. The answer came to me recently, after the 2012 National Theatre Awards.

Two years ago, Grodno’s Puppet Theatre began planning a new play, initiated by Chief Director Oleg Zhyugzhda. He had been dreaming of the show for a decade, imagining a synthesis of poet Pushkin and composer Tchaikovsky, supplemented by the talent of Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck and artist Margarita Stashulyonok, as well as Nikolay Karamzin’s Poor Liza and an Italian gondolier, four talented young actors and the author of the opera Elixir of Love, Gaetano Donizetti, joined Mr. Zhyugzhda in planning the play — all being eager to ignite a ‘spiritual thirst’ in their audience. Pushkin’s sedate 19th century verse was brought alive with dynamic force.

The result was the play entitled Queen of Spades, inspired by Pushkin’s works. It promotes morality, harmony, lofty thoughts and simplicity and is more than a bold experiment — as we often see these days. It recalls the classics with its poetic language, romance and tragedy, holding up high ideals while entertaining with wry humour and irony.

Over the past two years, the show has been regularly awarded at home and abroad, appealing widely with its light and merry manner. Critic Vissarion Belinsky has praised it greatly, although viewing it more as a collection of anecdotes than as a cohesive story. It must be said that, beneath its whimsical style, much sense and wisdom is to be found. Known as ‘mystical mystification’, it combines Pushkin’s novel and Tchaikovsky’s opera. The expected is reversed for the naughty duchesses, timid foster daughters and reckless guardsmen. Promoted as ‘a sun of Russian poetry’ and ‘a genius of Russian music’, it’s easy to recognise the influence of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. The kind angels in the cast charm us with their perfect Russian, wonderful opera singing and rich metaphors.

Of course, children are easily able to suspend any disbelief, entering the world of the puppets and accepting the spiritual symbolism of the play. The play combines games and fantasy, inspiring the imagination and allowing the younger generation to enjoy the beauty of the classics.
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