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A Month in the Country (play)

A Month in the Country is a play in five acts by Ivan Turgenev written in France between 1848 and 1850.

It was published under its Russian title, Mesiats v derevne, in 1855 and was first staged in 1872 as a benefit performance for the Moscow actress E N Vasilyeva who was keen to play the leading role of Natalya Petrovna.

Plot

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

Characters in order of appearance:

  • Schaaf
  • Anna Semenovna
  • Natalya Petrovna
  • Mikhailo Rakitin (Natalya's admirer}
  • Kolya (Natalya's son)
  • Aleksei Belyaev (Kolya's tutor)
  • Matvei
  • Shpigelsky (a neighbour)
  • Vera (Natalya's ward)
  • Arkadi Islaev (Natalya's husband)
  • Katya
  • Bolshintsov

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 St Petersburg censor without being performed in a theatre. 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 Theatre. 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 House, 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.

References

  • Theatre Record and its annual Indexes
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Plays by Michael Patterson, OUP (2005) ISBN 0198604173
  • London Stage in the 20th Century by Robert Tanitch, Haus (2007) ISBN 9781904950745

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