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Tri sestry

Three Sisters

Peter Eötvös *1944

Opera in three sequences
Libretto by Claus H. Henneberg and the composer, based on Anton P. Chekhov's play (1901)
World premiere March 13 1998, Opéra de Lyon

Duration: ca. 2 hrs 30 mins - including interval
Performed in Russian with German and English surtitles

The four siblings Irina, Andrei, Mascha and Olga, whose parents are dead, live with their nanny Anfisa and Andrei's domineering wife Natascha in a provincial town in Russia, where some soldiers are currently based.
Prologue The three sisters contemplate the meaning of life and suffering.
First Sequence: Irina The youngest sister, Irina, muses over what meaningful direction her life might take. Olga advises her to marry Baron Tusenbach: a not very good looking, but respectable man. Natascha goes through the house with a candle. After putting out a terrible fire in the town, the soldiers gather at the family's house. Doctor Tschebutikin – an family friend, and drunk – breaks the mother's hourglass. Mascha, the teacher Kulygin's wife, and the new Commandant, Werschinin, have become close. Soljony, an officer, argues with the doctor, then Andrei. Irina is courted by Tusenbach, then Soljony. Natascha tells Irina to vacate her room for her son Bobik, then vanishes, to go and meet her lover, Protopopow. When it is announced that the troops are going to Poland, Irina agrees to marry Tusenbach and go to Moscow with him. Then she hears that he has been killed in a duel with Soljony.
Second Sequence: Andrei The sisters complain about Andrei's lethargy. They fall silent when Natascha comes in for a candle. Andrei stands up for his wife in front of his sisters. Natascha wants to sack Anfisa, the nanny, and gets into an argument with Olga. The drunk doctor breaks the mother's hourglass and ponders over human existence. Everybody's talking about a fire that has broken out in the town. The doctor advises Andrei to go away, and leave everything behind him. Andrei looks back on the dreams of his youth; bemoans his idleness and the boredom and mediocrity of his environs. Natascha goes out to meet her lover Protopopow. Andrei escapes.
Third Sequence: Mascha Tea time on Irina's name day. The new Commandant Werschinin reminisces about the siblings' parents. Mascha agrees to accompany her husband Kulygin to the headmaster's for dinner. She and Werschinin, who is married too, become close. He declares his love. Mascha confesses her love for Werschinin to her siblings.The regiment leaves town. Werschinin takes his leave from Mascha.

Peter Eötvös and Claus H Henneberg turned the end of Chekhov's play into the prologue of their opera, and broke the story up into three sequences. These shed light on four siblings: Irina, Mascha, Olga and Andrej, who live in the Russian provinces, longing for fulfilling lives: first comes Irina, the youngest, wooed by two suitors, then Andrej, who is put into an awkward position between his sisters and his wife Natascha, and the middle sister Mascha, who is torn between her husband Kulygin and the officer Werschinin. None of them dare take the step into real life, which could mean having to deal with what makes them unhappy. The use of episodic, modified repetition in the opera emphasizes the distinguishing characteristics in Chekhov's play. The sequences gradually get shorter and rotate faster and faster before coming to a juddering halt. There are wonderful touches in what Eotvos described as his „comedy for music“ – including Natascha's shrieks and the sound of spoons stirring sugar into tea …

The action acquires abstraction and universality through the music's dramaturgy and cast - Irina, Mascha, Olga and Natascha are all sung by countertenors. There is a large orchestra on stage and a smaller one in the pit. This marvellous contemporary opera makes a powerful emotional impact.