Welcome, Prince Myshkin!
Throughout the XX century Dostoevsky's philosophical and expressive prose - namely his major novel The Idiot - aroused keen interest among composers. Taking Dostoyevsky's novel as its starting point, Mieczysław Weinberg made Prince Myshkin the protagonist of his opera. We can assume that a naive, compassionate Prince is preaching the composer’s own ideals. The libretto was created in collaboration with the musicologist Alexander Medvedev, a permanent librettist and a close friend of the composer. It is a substantial work, over three hours of music (208 minutes), for sure, such huge amount is above the strength of contemporary audience. So, the piece was turned into a cohesive story suited for the stage.
The story line of the opera reflects almost every twist and turn of the novel. The authors focus on the most vivid scenes of the novel, and feature only the main characters: there are only twelve sung roles. Nevertheless, one significant character was introduced - a Knife-Grinder. His haunting, monotonous tune is echoed in the music, he appears before the Prince Myshkin in the last scene, heralding the tragic final. The director of the production at the Bolshoi Yevgeny Arye strongly focuses the viewer's attention on this character: ‘Grinder’s voice becomes the part of delusions of Rogozhin and Myshkin. In this production there are three Grinders who really appear in the first and penultimate scenes.’