“Doctor Zhivago” is one of the greatest literary love stories of all time. This ageless, heart-wrenching classic has not lost any of its charm, and keeps moving subsequent generations of fans. The trials and tribulations of the main protagonist, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, and his lover Lara Guichard take place against the historical transformations of 20th-century Russia. The musical, whose Polish premiere was prepared by the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic, is an adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel, which had for many years been banned in Soviet Russia. The book’s typescript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and first published in Italy. The western world immediately acknowledged the beauty and captivating power of the work, awarding Pasternak with the Nobel Prize in Literature, which the author—intimidated by communist smear campaigns—never picked up. “Doctor Zhivago” is not just a story of a tumultuous affair and sudden impulses of the heart—above all, it conveys the feelings that inevitably accompany difficult life choices. Ultimately, the entire production may be summed up as a confession of love, which remains valid irrespective of the time and place. Lucy Simon’s compositions resonate with powerful emotions and shudders of the heart, reflecting the most beautiful aspects of the great writer’s novel.
The musical follows the life (and loves) of Yuri Zhivago, doctor and poet, in the years preceding World War I, through the February and October Revolutions, the ensuing civil war and emergence of the Soviet Union. The plot features a number of interrelated threads and events, but the main dramatic focus is on the five protagonists: three men in love with one women, and two women in love with the same man, whose fates are tossed by the winds of war and revolution. Each of the characters experiences first-hand the consequences of a collapsing social order and moral codes in their time.
The production clearly refers to the original setting of the novel. The monumental set design reflects the fall of tsardom and the birth of the Soviet super-state, while the turmoil of war is realistically and atmospherically conveyed by creatively choreographed group battle scenes. The sumptuous visual layer of the musical is backed with a complex score, where the attentive ear will discern echoes of classical pieces by 20th-century Russian composers. The libretto was directly inspired by the poetic pendant to “Doctor Zhivago,” containing 25 poems by Boris Pasternak. The production is also informed by David Lean’s Oscar-winning Hollywood adaptation of the novel.
World premiere: 19 II 2011, The Lyric Theatre, Sydney
Polish premiere: 15 IX 2017