The Russian composer Lera Auerbach has already produced outstanding work in virtually every musical genre. She is a regular guest in the major concert halls of the world as a pianist and her poetic texts are required reading at schools and universities in Russia. For the work commissioned by the Theater an der Wien the composer, born in 1973 in Chelyabinsk in the Urals, has chosen the writer Nikolai Gogol (1809-52) as her main protagonist.
Commissioned by the Theater an der Wien with the support of the Vienna Mozart Year 2006 and patronage by Gallery Sistema and Viacheslav Sheianov in honor of Raisa Sheianova.
In the last stage of his life Gogol is increasingly consumed by a religious mania. He considers his past work a sin and burns the second part of his major novel, Dead Souls. In the end he refuses to eat. In his final hours he is visited by the fantastic figures from his own works – and they show themselves to be more reasonable than he is himself at this point. Gogol has utterly broken with his previous life and renounces it; now it is avenging itself. In a whirlwind of images Gogol – accompanied by the devil Bes, a kind of alter ego – relives parts of his life: his hurried trips across Europe, made as if pursued, scraps of memories of his mother, the longing for love and his work as a lecturer. Time appears to go haywire. Gogol dances with Death and at the end the critic and his own characters sit in judgement over him. Utterly cowed and distraught, the writer starves to death.
This opera is not so much a biography as a poetic and satirical study of one of the greatest Russian writers, whose emotional life is as mysterious and fascinating as his idiosyncratic works with which he redefined Russian literature after Alexander Pushkin. Lera Auerbach's style ignores seemingly obligatory trends in contemporary composition. She has found her own voice, and it is full of stylistic freedom and dramatic power. In it she combines atonal and tonal elements; the history of European music is always present in her works.