Department of Music

Colloquium Series Autumn 2011

Mr Nathan Seinen, Cambridge University

Tuesday 25 October 4:30pm
Endsleigh Room, 1st Floor, Department of Music

"Ideal versus Real Man: Prokofiev's Final Opera and Late Stalinist Subjectivity"

Prokofiev's final opera, The Story of a Real Man (1947-48), is based on a contemporary novel of the same title (Polevoy, 1946), a prominent work of post-war literature that tells a true story of heroism from the recent war: an airman who loses his lower legs overcomes seemingly impossible physical and psychological obstacles to fly and fight again. This paper offers a critical account of Real Man that is focused on the theme of subjectivity, which is crucial to both its subject matter and historical context. A definitive feature of Soviet socialism was the ambition to reconstruct human subjectivity, to create the New Soviet Man, a Bolshevik Übermensch. According to Stalinist propaganda, this archetypal heroic figure was responsible for the great achievements of the 1930s in industry, agriculture, and exploration, and had proven himself superior in the victory of the Great Patriotic War. I develop a contrast between the treatment of the standard heroic narrative in Prokofiev's opera and in the film based on the same novel (dir. Stolper, 1948). I argue that the opera failed to represent the appropriate Stalinist form of subjectivity, since grotesque imagery and elements of Expressionism, crude comedy and lyricism evinced a bourgeois/Freudian rather than a Soviet/Nietzschean understanding of the self. Real Man was composed before and after the infamous 1948 Resolution on music, which condemned leading composers for 'formalist' errors, and although the opera was Prokofiev's considered attempt to meet socialist realist standards and smooth out difficulties in his career, it had the opposite effect. I conclude with a discussion of Prokofiev's own failure to achieve the necessary self-transformation into a Soviet subject.

Nathan Seinen has recently submitted his PhD dissertation on Prokofiev’s ‘Soviet’ operas at the University of Cambridge, and is now writing a book on this topic. He has published articles in Music & Letters and the Cambridge Opera Journal, and is the 2010 recipient of the Alfred Einstein Award from the American Musicological Society, for the best article written by a junior scholar in 2009. He has taught at Cambridge and the University of East Anglia, and is currently a Teaching Assistant at Nottingham.

All are welcome! Refreshments will be served.

Posted on Tuesday 18th October 2011

Department of Music

The University of Nottingham
Lakeside Arts Centre
University Park
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