Projected opera in 4 acts (1888–90, 1892–93).
Tchaikovsky considered writing an opera on the subject of Mikhail Lermontov’s Béla on at least two occasions. On 14/26 October 1889, the composer met the playwright Anton Chekhov, and it appears that amongst other things they discussed a possible opera libretto, although it is not known which subjects were considered. The composer’s library contains a collection of stories by Chekhov, inscribed by the author: "To Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, from his future librettist. 89 14/XI [= X]. A. Chekhov".
However, on 19/31 January 1890, Modest Tchaikovsky wrote to the composer from Florence: "I’ve seen Chekhov on two occasions... He wants to suggest to you Lermontov’s Béla for an opera subject" . Unfortunately the composer’s response is not known, but Mikhail Chekhov recalled a meeting between his brother Anton Chekhov and Tchaikovsky: "I remember both of them discussing the contents of an intended libretto for an opera Béla, which Tchaikovsky was preparing to compose. He had wanted the libretto to be written for him after Lermontov by my brother Anton. Béla was to be a soprano, Pechorin—a baritone, Maksim Maksimovich—a tenor, Kazbich—bass. "Only, you know, Anton Pavlovich", said Tchaikovsky, "there must be no processions with marches. Speaking candidly, I do not like marches" .
Nothing more was heard of Béla until 1892, when press reports appeared in Moscow and Saint Petersburg that the composer was about to write an opera on this subject. In April 1892, Tchaikovsky was interviewed for the Moscow newspaper Daily News (Новости дня), when he was asked: "Is it true that you are composing an opera based on Lermontov’s Béla, and that Vasily Nemirovich-Danchenko is writing a libretto for you?". "Yes, Nemirovich-Danchenko, whom I met recently in Moscow, urged me to write an opera on this theme", the composer replied, "In view of Nemirovich’s insistence, I proposed that he do the libretto. When I return from abroad I shall meet with him" ,
On 17 February/1 March 1893, the Odessan Herald (Одесский вестник) newspaper reported that "We are pleased to be able to pass on some information concerning the new grand opera Béla by P. I. Tchaikovsky, on which the talented composer is at present working. According to the author, the opera will not be ready until the next season, so that its production on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg will not take place this year. The successful composition is being hindered by the disruption caused to Pyotr Ilyich’s work as a result of his frequent tours. The title role is written for a dramatic soprano. Pechorin, the hero of the opera, is a baritone, as in Yevgeny Onegin. The opera is in 4 acts" .
It is possible that the source for this story was V. P. Sokolnikov, who was present in January 1893 when Tchaikovsky attended a dinner with artists from the Odessa Opera Theatre. Sokolnikov recalled that on this occasion, Tchaikovsky showed him a scenario for the opera Béla, and even played some of the themes from the opera . However, there are no later references to the subject.
The Tchaikovsky Handbook, vol. 1 (2002), p. 413
This page was last updated on 13 February 2013