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A Month in the Country ( ) is a comedy in five acts by Ivan Turgenev. It was written in France between 1848 and 1850 and was first published in 1855. The play was not staged until 1872, when it was given as a benefit performance for the Moscow actress E N Vasilyeva, who was keen to play the leading role of Natalya Petrovna.

Plot summary

The setting is the Islaev country estate in the 1840s. Natalya Petrovna, a headstrong 29 year old, is married to Arkadi Islaev, a rich landowner seven years her senior. Bored with life she welcomes the attentions of Mikhailo Rakitin as her devoted but resentful admirer, without ever letting their friendship develop into a love affair.

The arrival of a handsome 21-year-old student Aleksei Belyaev as tutor to her son Kolya ends her boredom. Natalia falls in love with Aleksei, but so does her ward Vera, the Islaevs' 17-year-old foster daughter. To rid herself of her rival Natalya proposes that Vera should marry a rich old neighbour, but the rivalry remains unresolved.

Rakitin struggles with his love for Natalya, she wrestles with hers for Aleksei while the youngsters draw closer. Misunderstandings arise and when Arkadi begins to have his suspicions both Rakitin and Belyaev are obliged to leave, while Natalia as a rustic chatelaine, again lapses into a state of boredom.

Characters

  • Arkadi Sergeyevich ISLAYEV, a rich landowner, 36
  • NATALYA Petrovna, his wife, 29
  • KOLYA, their son, 10
  • VERA Aleksandrovna (Verochka), Natalya's ward, 17
  • ANNA Semyonovna Islayeva, Arkadi's mother, 58
  • LIZAVETA Bogdanovna, a companion, 37
  • Adam Ivanovich SCHAFF, a German tutor, 45
  • Mikhailo Aleksandrovich RAKITIN, a family friend, 30
  • Aleksei Nikolayevich BELYAEV, a student, Kolya's tutor, 21
  • Afanasi Ivanovich BOLSHINTSOV, a neighbour, 48
  • Ignati Ilyich SHPIGELSKY, a doctor, 40
  • MATVEI, a servant, 40
  • KATYA, a servant, 20


Acts

Act 1: The Drawing Room, afternoon

Act 2: The Garden, the following day

Act 3: The Drawing Room, the following day

Act 4: The Estate, the same evening

Act 5: The Veranda, the following day

History of the play

Originally entitled The Student the play was banned by the Saint Petersburgmarker censor without being performed. Turgenev first changed the title to Two Women. In 1854 it was passed for publication provided alterations were made — demands made more on moral than political grounds. To play down the controversy Turgenev finally changed the name to A Month in the Country.

Following the 1872 premiere, the play was not performed again until 1879 when it became a regular part of the Russian repertoire.

In an introduction to his 1994 English translation, Richard Freeborn wrote:
”Turgenev’s comedy has often been called Chekhovian, even through it preceded Chekhov’s mature work by more than forty years. The happiest irony surrounding the play’s survival is that its ultimate success was due more than anything to the popularity of Chekhov’s work and the kind of ensemble playing which Stanislavsky fostered at the Moscow Art Theatremarker. It was his production in 1909, when he played the role of Rakitin, that finally demonstrated the true brilliance of Turgenev’s long-neglected play.”


Major productions in English translation



Adaptations

Turgenev's play was freely adapted by choreographer Frederick Ashton as a one-act ballet for the Royal Ballet company in 1976. John Lanchberry arranged the score based on music by Frederic Chopin; the stage design was by Julia Trevelyan Oman. Natalia was first danced by Lynn Seymour, upon whom the role was created, while Anthony Dowell danced the role of Beliaev. "Ashton took Seymour and the rest of the cast to see a production of the play which was running in London, with Dorothy Tutin in the lead, and he encouraged her to research the subject as he had." The premiere performance was presented at the Royal Opera Housemarker, Covent Garden on 12 February 1976. Lynn Seymour also danced the role in New York and her Covent Garden performance was filmed by director Colin Nears for the BBC in 1976.

Notes

  1. Introduction to the play in a Proscenium Publications programme note for the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford revival (February 1994)
  2. Ibid: Proscenium Publications programme note (1994)
  3. Richard Freeborn’s programme note for the Richmond Theatre presentation of his English translation, March 1994
  4. John Thaxter wrote: “Michael Redgrave’s famous Guildford staging of A Month in the Country, with Ingrid Bergman as a blameless Natalya, helplessly in love with her son’s young tutor, has served as a benchmark for almost thirty years. Its place is now confidently taken by Bill Bryden’s definitive new production with a superlative cast led by Helen Mirren. Turgenev was first to set all the effective action within the minds of his characters. Bryden’s chamber opera approach turns the play’s potentially awkward interior monologues into the spoken equivalent of arias and recitatives. His placement of actors across the stage in vivid, essentially two-dimensional relationships, also adds a Mozartian zest to the trios and duets.” Richmond and Twickenham Times review 25 February 1994
  5. Kavanagh (1996).


Sources

  • Isaiah Berlin, trans. 1981. A Month in the Country. By Ivan Turgenev. London: Penguin. ISBN 014044436X.
  • Kavanagh, Julie. 1996. Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton. London: Faber. ISBN 0571143520
  • Patterson, Michael, ed. 2005. The Oxford Dictionary of Plays. Oxford: Oxford UP. ISBN 0198604173.
  • Robert Tanitch. 2007. London Stage in the 20th Century London: Haus. ISBN 9781904950745.
  • Theatre Record and its annual Indexes



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