A Musical Year – January – “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem” from Pique Dame
My musical choice for the month of January is Liza’s aria “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem” from the third act of Tchaikovsky’s opera pique dame. As I’ve mentioned before, January is my second-to-least favourite month, I find it to be a bleak and desolate month, deathly pale in comparison to its bright and festive predecessor December, and Liza’s aria is perfect for this.
I first saw Pique Dame on February 22 2002 (I have no idea why I remember the date, but there you are) in Kasper Holten’s brilliant staging at the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen, and was immensely moved by it, and what I remember most vividly is the scene with Liza’s aria. It featured a miserable and worried Liza, waiting for her beloved Herman, standing on a bridge (such a great metaphor for the state of transition at which Liza finds herself at this point of the opera!) with water flowing underneath it while the snow fell around her, and I thought it captured so beautifully the atmosphere of Tchaikovsky’s music. The melody is very simple and a sorrowful beautiful and accurate depicts Liza’s state of mind and through an increasing allegro her growing fears that she has been abandoned, but the orchestration with the extensive use of the woodwind gives off a kind of folkloristic sound that places the anguished heroine geographically, the swirling scales of the oboes imitating the flow of the canal that libretto has Liza standing by, and the whirl of snowflakes in the cold St. Petersburg night. A haunting scene, especially of course, when one considers Liza’s fate in the opera.
I do have my reservations about Pique Dame, I tend to think that the fourth act, with its intense focus on an almost raving Herman and his obscure little cards, seems a little anticlimactic, but the opera has enough beautiful music and dramatic tension to make up for this, and the beginning of the third act with Liza standing by the canal is actually one of my favourite operatic moments. It’s such a perfect musical depiction of the cold, bone-chilling realization that one is about to be abandoned, and as such it reminds me of January. Here is an English translation of the lyrics from “Akh! Isomilas ya gorem”, although I cannot take credit for myself – I couldn’t put two words together in Russian to save my life:
“Oh! I am weary with sorrow… Night and day I think only of him and I worry…
Joy, where have you gone! Oh! I am weary and exhausted!Life promised me nothing but happiness,
Then came a cloud of storm.
All that I loved in the world,
My happiness and hopes were destroyed!
Oh, I am weary and worn!
Life promised me nothing but happiness.
I am worn and weary with suffering!
Anguish gnaws and consumes me….”
(lyrics by Modest Tchaikovsky)
PS: Hm. Self-destruction and the bone-chillling realization of abandonment. January really does bring out the worst in me, it would seem. Good thing the month’s almost over!