17 Feb 2022

PROKOFIEV: Selections from Cinderella

by Jeff Counts

Duration: 31 minutes in eight movements.

THE COMPOSER – SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) – Prokofiev’s work in 1941 on the ballet Cinderella jostled with an unruly host of other events and distractions – professional, personal, and global. His marriage to Lina was at a breaking point. He was uncertain about the viability of his illicit relationship with Mira Mendelson. His new opera Betrothal at a Monastery was in production. And last, but certainly not least, there was a war going on. The fantastic (and surprising) success of Romeo and Juliet had encouraged the Kirov Ballet to commission the new work a year earlier, but Prokofiev wouldn’t complete the project until 1945. His busy, complicated life continued to intervene during those four years, as did the collapsing world order.

Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev

THE HISTORY – The fact that the first two acts of Cinderella were composed during the dissolution of Prokofiev’s marriage to Lina and the start of his public life with Mira, calls certain aspects of the piece into question. He had made statements to the press about how he hoped to make the character of Cinderella a “real person” and not simply a fairy tale archetype. He wanted to see her “feeling, experiencing and moving among us.” Whether the desire to add a third dimension to his heroine was meant to confirm a new devotion to Mira or hint at some lingering sympathy for Lina, or both, is impossible to divine now. But Prokofiev was working on an autobiography during that same 1941 summer, so it seems likely the reflective mood engendered by that process found its way into Cinderella. Both the ballet and the memoir had to be shelved when Germany invaded, however, and Prokofiev soon turned his attention to an opera based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He and Mira were able to return to Moscow in 1943 and he got back to work on the ballet in due course, reckoning at last with his own delayed midnight and completing the orchestration in 1944. When the premiere finally happened in 1945 it was at the Bolshoi, not the Kirov, but the commissioning company got its turn just one year later (with a production the composer greatly preferred). Three orchestral collections were drawn from the score in 1946 as well and tonight’s compilation is based on numbers from Suites 1 and 3. The story of Cinderella is well known, but Prokofiev’s intentions for the ballet version are worth considering in light of its protracted and emotionally freighted timeline. “What I wished to express above all else in the music of Cinderella,” he claimed, “was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and flowering of that love, the obstacles in its path, and finally the dream fulfilled.”

THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1945, World War II ended, Korea split into two nations, George Orwell published Animal Farm, scientists discovered the chemical element Promethium, and penicillin became widely available for the first time.

THE CONNECTION – Music from Prokofiev’s Cinderella suites has not been featured on a Utah Symphony program since 2015. Rei Hotoda conducted.