Prokofiev: The Unfinished Diary
A film by Yosif Feyginberg. Kultur D4802, 52 mins.
The life of composer Sergei Prokofiev was filled with dramatic, one might even say operatic, twists of fate and circumstance. Many have wondered why this brilliant composer, who successfully departed from Russia shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918, would return as a Soviet citizen at the very height of Stalin's bloody purges. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, an unexpected key to understanding this enigma has come to light. Unbeknown to most of the world, from 1907 until 1933 Prokofiev kept a highly detailed secret journal. Written in shorthand, the voluminous diary resurfaced in the 1990s and ultimately was decoded by the composer's son, Svyatoslav. Two 800-page volumes of the diary (originally published in Russian) have been released in English translation, with a third volume scheduled for release later this year. In addition to giving a vivid picture of Prokofiev's life and activities, they reveal much of his psychological life.
Yosif Feyginberg has created a film documentary inspired by the diaries, covering Prokofiev's years of self-imposed exile and subsequent return to his homeland. The fifty-minute film provides a valuable window into Prokofiev's saga and gives a captivating overview of those culturally exciting times. Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Cleofonte Campanini (conductor and music director of the Chicago Opera, who procured the world premiere of Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges) and other key figures in the musical culture of the time all appear in the film, as do current Prokofiev interpreters such as pianists Yefim Bronfman and André LaPlante. The footage includes clips from the 1934 Soviet film of Lieutenant Kijé, in which the singing voices of Prokofiev and his wife, Lina, are heard. Much of the narration is carried by musicologist and Prokofiev scholar Simon Morrison, and by founding curator of the Prokofiev Archive Noëlle Mann. The film is both concise and thorough. Svyatoslav Prokofiev and the composer's grandson, Serge, also contribute valuable insights. Scenes from recent productions of The Love for Three Oranges and The Fiery Angel, as well as the ballet Le Pas d'Acier (The Steel Step), are included, helping to bring the composer's theatrical vision to life.
Feyginberg's film creates a fine sense of Prokofiev's struggle for recognition in America, coupled with his growing realization that New York City and the rest of the U.S. of the early 1920s were as yet too provincial to embrace musical modernism. The tension and insecurity of Prokofiev's life in Paris — particularly his difficulties in maintaining the interest of his most important patrons, Diaghilev and Koussevitzky, amid competition from Stravinsky, Poulenc, Ravel and others — also are convincingly presented. Viewed in conjunction with reading The People's Artist, Morrison's superb biography of Prokofiev's subsequent years in the Soviet Union, the video can contribute to a very deep understanding of Prokofiev the man and composer.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.