In 2004, scholar Olga Digonskaya discovered a substantial cache of Shostakovich autographs, sketches, and rejected drafts in a Moscow archive. While much of the new material helps to illuminate the compositional process behind well-known works, undoubtedly the most sensational find was music intended for an operatic satire, Orango
– dating from the early 1930s – that never saw its realization in performance.
The Bolshoi Theatre commissioned the opera in 1932 for the purpose of commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Alexei Tolstoy and Alexander Starchakov were enlisted as librettists to write an opera with Shostakovich on the broad theme of "human
growth during revolution and socialist construction". The collaborators conceived of their opera as "a political lampoon against the bourgeois press", adapting the plot from one of Starchakov's stories concerning a human-ape hybrid conceived in a medical experiment.
Tight deadlines doomed the project as the librettists failed to deliver on their contracted schedule and Shostakovich had no choice but to change his focus to other work, eventually abandoning the opera. Until the recent discovery of Shostakovich's piano sketch for the opera's prologue, no one knew that Shostakovich had composed any operatic music at all.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen will give the world premiere of the prologue, newly orchestrated by Gerard McBurney, on December 2, with further performances on December 3 and 4.
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