School textbooks tell us that Princess Sofia Golshanskaya was just 17 when she married Polish King Jogбila, aged 71. She became the Queen of Poland, and mother to three sons: heirs to the throne. The Belarusian State Musical Theatre’s performance gives its interpretation of the young queen’s character and motivations, showing how she coped in ruling a mighty state and dealing with intrigues.
The Artistic Leader of the Musical Theatre, Adam Murzich, notes that he has long wanted to stage a ‘national’ performance. He explains, “The theatre needs productions using a Belarusian composed score and libretto, as well as local direction. I’m delighted to have been involved, although a little disappointed that our troupe is not ready to translate the show fully into Belarusian: such a musical and lyrical language. Not all of our actors can speak Belarusian properly, which could affect the quality of singing. Therefore, only six songs are in Belarusian, with the rest in Russian.”
The composer, Vladimir Kondrusevich, began work on the idea in 2006, when a friend brought him a coin issued in honour of the 600th anniversary of the birth of Sofia Golshanskaya. Mr. Kondrusevich recalls, “He showed me the annotation, thinking that it might inspire me. Since then, I’ve accumulated material and ideas and have replaced perhaps five librettists. It’s quite difficult to write and stage historical performances, since you need to portray more than just facts; you need to reveal people’s character. Thanks to Yelena Turova, we’ve managed to create a very interesting libretto, with exciting intrigue and an unexpected ending.”
Creating such a plot took a great deal of thought, as Yelena — the director and author of the libretto — admits. “We have few historical facts about Sofia Golshanskaya, although there is more on other, more famous, people such as Barbara Radziwiłł. We lack information on Sofia but we do know that King Jogбila chose to wed her after rejecting her sister, Vasilisa, as being too temperamental. There were attempts to challenge her sons’ right to the throne and to accuse Sofia of unfaithfulness, as Sofia was looked down upon by some at court, including the King’s brother Vytautas. He believed that Sofia did not behave like a queen, having too much playfulness and mischief. Horrifically, there is evidence that Vytautas and Jogбila even tried to give her less food, to encourage her to behave with dignity. Apparently, manners at court were above all. This is all that we know about her and is the basis for our drama,” Yelena tells us.
Ms. Turova explains the plot: Great King Jogбila plans to marry a beautiful woman, Vasilisa. However, he unexpectedly falls in love with her younger sister, Sofia — beloved of young warrior Gancha. Vasilisa, offended by the king’s fickleness, decides to take revenge on Sofia, who suspects nothing. On Kupala night, a sorceress gives Sofia a fern flower, predicting her meeting with her betrothed and, soon, Sofia’s heart fills with love for Jogбila. War arrives, with Jogбila and Gancha fighting side by side, until they return victorious, with the King making Gancha his sworn brother. Meanwhile, cunning chancellor Ugo joins forces with Vasilisa to spin intrigue; the clouds gather over beautiful Sofia, who we see in the final scene imprisoned, awaiting execution.
Yelena explains, “Love helped our heroes pass all tests. Our Sofia really loved her husband and her children were born of love. She dedicated her life to them, doing everything possible to ensure that the throne was left to them. Through the entire performance, we try to emphasise this aspect, showing that love can perform miracles and remove all obstacles. Regardless of birth, we are all human — even kings. To leave peacefully in this world for which we are responsible, we must, foremost, have self-knowledge, and we should remember our duty to our family. Our life is largely shaped by these factors and we can learn simple lessons from history, which we shouldn’t forget. This may be the main reason why we love to hear about history.”