Christmas Eve (opera)

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Christmas Eve (Russian: Ночь перед Рождеством, Noch' pered Rozhdestvom), is an opera in four acts with music and libretto by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Composed between 1894 and 1895, Rimsky-Korsakov based his opera on a short story, "Christmas Eve", from Nikolay Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.[1] The story had been used as the basis for an opera at least three times previously, including for Tchaikovsky's Vakula the Smith (1874).[2] Oliver Knussen writes that "Rimsky is only interested in recreating the atmosphere of the folk-tale, fleshing it out for his stage pageant in a comparable way to Humperdinck in Hansel.[3]

Performance history

The premiere took place on 10 December 1895 in St. Petersburg.

The British premiere was in 1988 in London, with English National Opera conducted by Albert Rosen.[4]


Role Voice type Premiere cast
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
10 December 1895
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
Tsaritsa mezzo-soprano Maria-Vilgelmina Piltz
Village-head baritone Vladimir Mayboroda
Chub, an elderly Cossack bass Mikhail Koryakin
Oksana, his daughter soprano Yevgeniya Mravina
Solokha, a widow, and by rumor, a witch contralto Mariya Kamenskaya
Vakula the smith, her son tenor Ivan Yershov
Panas, a crony of Chub bass Fyodor Stravinsky[5]
Deacon Osip Nikiforovich tenor Grigoriy Ugrinovich
Patsyuk, an old Zaporozhets, a sorcerer bass Nikolay Klimov
Devil tenor Mitrofan Chuprīnnikov
Chorus, silent roles: Lasses, lads, Cossacks of Dikanka. Witches, wizards, evil and good spirits. The figures of Kolyada and Ovsen. The morning star (Venus) and other stars. Court gentlemen and ladies. Lackeys


Time: 18th century

Place: The village of Dikanka, Ukraine; mid-air; a royal court

File:Mravina as Oksana 1895.jpg
Yevgeniya Mravina sang the role of Oksana in the premiere of Christmas Eve
(Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, 1895)

Act 1

Tableau 1: Christmas Eve in the hamlet of Dikanka

The widow Solokha agrees to help the Devil steal the moon. The Devil is annoyed with Solokha's son Vakula, who painted an icon mocking him. The Devil decides to create a snowstorm to prevent Vakula from seeing his beloved Oksana. While the storm rages, Solokha rides up to the sky and steals the moon, while the Deacon and Oksana's father, Chub, are unable to find their way.

Tableau 2: Interior of Chub's house

Oksana is alone and lonely at home. She passes through several moods and the music follows her with gradually accelerating tempos. At one point, Vakula enters and watches her admiring herself. She teases him, and he says he loves her, but she replies that she will only marry him if he brings her a pair of the Empress's slippers. Chub comes back out of the storm, and Vakula, not recognizing him and taking him for a rival, chases him out by striking him. Seeing what he has done, Oksana sends Vakula away in a miserable state. Young people from the village come around singing Ukrainian Christmas carols. Oksana realizes she still loves Vakula.

Act 2

Tableau 3: Solokha's house

The Devil is just getting cosy at Solokha's hut when in succession the mayor, the priest and Chub arrive to seduce her each hiding in a sack when the next arrives. Vakula hauls the four heavy sacks to his smithy.

Tableau 4: Vakula's smithy

Vakula puts down his sacks. Young men and women, including Oksana, gather singing Kolyadki and having fun. Vakula, however, is bored and dejected. Oksana taunts Vakula one last time about the Tsaritsa's slippers. Vakula gives his farewell to the lads and to Oksana, exclaiming that he will perhaps meet them in another world. He leaves the sacks - from which the four men emerge.

Act 3

Tableau 5: Inside Patsyuk's house

Patsyuk makes magic vareniki jump into his mouth. Vakula has come to request assistance from him. Patsyuk advises him that in order to obtain the help of the devil, he must go to the devil. Vakula puts down his sack, and the devil jumps out and tries to get his soul in exchange for Oksana. Vakula, however, grabs him by his neck, and climbs on his back. He forces the devil to fly him to St. Petersburg.

Tableau 6: Space. Moon and stars

We witness the charming "Games and Dances of the Stars". This is followed by the "Diabolical Kolyadka" in which Patsyuk, riding a mortar, and Solokha, on her broom, attempt to stop Vakula. He succeeds, however, in getting through, and the lights of St. Petersburg become visible through the clouds.

Tableau 7: A palace. A sumptuous room, brightly lit

The Devil puts down Vakula in the tsaritsa's court and disappears into the fireplace. Vakula joins a group of Zaporozhian Cossacks who are petitioning the tsaritsa. A chorus sings the tsaritsa's praises in a magnificent polonaise. The tsaritsa addresses the Cossacks. Vakula requests the tsaritsa's boots to the music of a minuet, and his wish is granted because of its unusual and amusing nature. The Devil takes Vakula away as Russian and Cossack dances commence.

Tableau 8: Space. Night

Vakula returns home on the devil's back. We witness the procession of Kolyada (young girl in a carriage) and Ovsen (boy on a boar's back). On approaching Dikanka, we hear church bells and a choir.

Act 4

Tableau 9: Christmas Day. Courtyard beside Chub's house

Oksana listens to some women exchanging gossip about Vakula, who is believed to have committed suicide. Alone, Oksana sings an aria expressing her regret that she had treated Vakula harshly, and wishing for his return. He appears with the boots, followed by Chub. Vakula asks Chub for Oksana's hand in marriage and Chub assents. Vakula and Oksana sing a duet. Other characters enter and ask Vakula about his disappearance.

Epilogue: In memory of Gogol

Vakula announces that he will relate his story to the beekeeper Panko the Gingerhead (i.e., Gogol), who will write a story of Christmas Eve. There is general rejoicing.

Principal arias and numbers


Act 1
Act 2
Act 3

Scene 2
Games and dances of the stars
  1. Mazurka
  2. Procession of the Comet
  3. Khorovod
  4. Csárdás and shower of shooting stars
Diabolic Kolyadka
Scene 3
Polonaise with chorus

Act 4

Related works

An orchestral suite from the opera of 1904 consists of the introduction to the opera ('Holy Night'), Flight of Vakula, moon and stars, Polonaise, and return flight of Vakula and Christmas morning bells.

Christmas Eve, Vakula the Smith, and The Slippers, are all based on the same story by Gogol.


Audio Recordings (Mainly studio recordings) Source:

  • 1948, Natalya Shpiller (Oksana), Lyudmila Ivanovna Legostayeva (Tsaritsa), Nina Kulagina (Solokha), Dmitriy Tarkhov (Vakula), Pavel Pontryagin (Devil), Sergey Migay (Village-Head), Sergey Krasovsky (Chub), Vsevolod Tyutyunnik (Panas), Aleksey Korolyov (Patsyuk), Sergey Streltsov (Sacristan). Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Radio Chorus, Nikolai Golovanov.
  • 1990, Yekaterina Kudryavchenko (Oxana), Yelena Zaremba (Solokha), Vladimir Bogachov (Vakula), Stanislav Suleymanov (Chub), Maksim Mikhaylov (Panas), Vyacheslav Verestnikov (Village-Head), Vyacheslav Voynarovsky (Devil), Alexey Maslennikov (Sacristan), Boris Beyko (Patsyuk), Olga Tiruchnova (Tsaritsa) Moscow Forum Theatre, Yurlov Academic Choir, Mikhail Yurovsky.


  1. Abraham, Gerald E.H., "Rimsky-Korsakov's Gogol Operas" (July 1931). Music & Letters, 12 (3): pp. 242-252.
  2. Taruskin, Richard (2007). L. Macy (ed.). "Christmas Eve [Noch' pered rozhdestvom]". New Grove Dictionary of Opera / Grove Music Online. Retrieved 2007-06-07. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help); External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Knussen, Oliver. A favourite fairy-tale synthesist. English National Opera programme book, London, 1988.
  5. Fyodor Shalyapin alternated with Stravinsky in the role during the production
  • Abraham, Gerald (1936). "IX. Rimsky-Korsakov's Gogol Operas". Studies in Russian Music. London: William Reeves / The New Temple Press. pp. 167–192.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Noch' Pered Rozhdestvom / Christmas Eve". Opera Glass at Stanford University. Retrieved 2007-06-09. External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>