Stone Flower (Kemenni Tsvetok) is a beautiful memorable simple folk-ballet. Delays caused by the Soviet authorities prevented the Premier of the score until after the composers death. The libretto is by Leonid Lavrovsky (also first choreographer) and Mira Mendelson-Prokovieva (composers wife). The story comes from a collection of tales and stories from the gem and ore miners of the Ural mountains region. These were collected by Pavel Bazhov who in 1939 published them under the title of the Malachite Box (malachite is a form of copper ore). Mr. Bazhov is noted as an early environmentalist and conservationist concerned with the destruction of the Ural forests and mountainscapes by the Soviets moving Russian steel factories and heavy industry to that region.
Background of the Composition. Sergei Prokofiev (b. Ukraine 1891, d. Moskow 1953) is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. He wrote great quantities of music: Symphonies, Concertos (violin, piano, cello etc) much solo piano work including masterful piano sonatas (I once attempted to play) several excellent operas, some eight ballets among them Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella and numerous other scores. His own style was often acerbic, brittle and sometimes caustic and he often ran afoul of Soviet authorities. As time went on the totalitarian state became more intolerant of "modernist" ideas and music should glorify the Soviet state. Much as Galileo living in the 16th century Catholic totalitarian state in Italy had to disown his observations and calculations that the earth revolved around the sun because his own life was threatened (several colleagues holding this view had been burned at the stake by the church), so Prokofiev had to "write down" to Soviet taste. As the Stalinist dictatorship became more oppresive more problem arose for Prokofiev and colleagues. Stone Flower was written in 1947-1948 but not staged. In 1948 the Stalinist council headed by Andrei Shadov denounced the Russian "Big Four"; Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khatchaturian and Miaskovski as "modernist" and irrelavant to the people. Even as his health was deteriorating his life was in danger. It was forbidden to perform any of his music in the USSR as well as some other "Big Four" music. He revised yet again Stone Flower but delays prevented production. He died March 1953 just before Stalin. The ballet was performed on Feb. 12, 1954 with Ulanova as Katerina and Plisetskya as the Copper Mistress. It failed. It was said to contain too much mime. In 1957 it was revised and rechoreographed by Yuri Grigorovich at the Kirov in Leningrad and at a World Youth Congress in Moskow. In 1959 Grigorovich, now at the Bolshoi, gave it with Maximova, Vasiliev and Plisetskaya. It was a hit. This production toured the United States to great acclaim. The same production was revived in 1979 with Vasiliev and Maximova (husband and wife) and recorded and released on DVD which is available in this catalog.
The present recording is an excellent version presented and recorded in 1990 at the Bolshoi. It is somewhat dark and a little fuzzy and unfocused but the contents are worth watching. The cast has Nikolai Dorokhov as Danila; the serf stone cutter who dreams of making a beautiful stone flower of the copper ore gem malchite. His fiance Katerina is Lyudmilla Semenyaka is all pure innocence and seeks to find him after he journeys to the Copper Mountain to learn to cut the perfect flower. The Mistress of the Copper Mountain is Nina Semizorova a wily, dextrorse and finally benevolent "spirit". Danila's boss at the mine is Severyan danced with gusto by Yuri Vetrov. The setting is the Polevoye district of Gumyoshki in the Urals.
The ballet begins with a chord that starts low in the brass, then winds upword and soars high and lets you know that Prokpfiev wrote it. The music in general in more lyrical than his compositions of the immediate past, doubtless to mollify the authorities but it is good and beautiful music appropriate for this simple folksy story. The Danila is young and trim and quite acrobatic as a dancer; his jetes are swift and quite gymnastic. He is exciting to watch. Katerina doesn't have any showy numbers but her portrayal of the sweet bride is endearing. To me the Copper Mistress stole the show. Her agile partnering with Danila was spectacular. Unbelievable twists and bends that she does are awe inspiring.
To a great measure the value of this ballet is the combining of classical ballet steps with folk dance steps in a wondrous amalgam. When Danila and Katerina are dancing they break into a syncopated bent-at-the-knee back step that adds a folk quality. Much of the ballet is Russian folk dances with that knee slapping, out thrust kicking Cossack dancing that no Westerner could ever hope to do. Thus Stone Flower will remain a Russian gem of a ballet. I have come to love watching this lively ballet though I prefer the version done at the Kirov in 1991 with Polikarpova and Gulyaev.