Friday, June 03, 2011

Libiamo in Russian, or Yerofeev's Pet Hate

In the novel 'Moscow - Petushki' by Venedikt Yerofeev his character sees the late Brezhnev-period world of the Soviet Union through alcoholic haze, sometimes clearer than others around him. In one chapter he comes to a restaurant at the Kursky station in Moscow with a terrible hangover. (English text from here, also quoted on this translator's blog)

Nothing to drink! Mother of God! Indeed, if you believe the angels, they're fairly drowning in sherry in here. But now there's only music and music with some kind of mangy harmonics at that. Yes, that's Ivan Kozlovsky all right. I recognized him immediately; there's no one else with a voice that nauseous. All singers have equally nauseous voices, but every one of them is nauseous in its own way. That's why I can identify them so easily. Well, of course: Ivan Kozlovsky. "Oh, Chalice of my fore-bear-ers. Oh, let me gaze for-e-ever upon you ny star-r-r-r light." Well, of course, Ivan Kozlovsky. "Oh, why am I smi-i-tten so with you. Don't reje-e-ect me."

Anyone who lived in the Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s would feel affinity with poor Venichka – Kozlovsky, great as he was in his heyday, was long out of fashion. In opera too, nobody sung with that affected gentility any longer. But Kozlovsky was still disproportionally high on official radio play-lists.

And just in case you were wondering if the noble Spanish jerez was a drink of choice for Russian down-and-outs as well as for the gentlemen of Pall Mall, don't, the Russian kheres is (or was at the time) a horrible sweet fortified wine, first produced in the Crimea and then in other wine-growing regions of the Soviet Union. One of the most popular brands was 'Massandra' after Crimean vineyards. I don't remember the price of Soviet kheres, but if a commenter on this blog is correct it was 4.47 rubles, pricey compared to 3.62 for a bottle of regular vodka or 2.75 for a bottle of dry white wine.

I've long wanted to find out what is it exactly that Ivan Kozlovsky sings on the radio 'with dog-like modulations' before posting a video with him actually singing. But I give up, if anyone knows, please let me know. This is the Drinking Song from 'Traviata', not the one in the novel, but at least they drink. The beautiful Galina Pisarenko as Violetta. Recording for 1967 New Year's TV concert.

And in this one another of the 'nauseous' opera singer, Sergei Lemeshev, Kozlovsky's contemporary and life-long competition, sings the same.

The passage in Russian (from this site): 
Нет ничего спиртного! Царица небесная! Ведь если верить ангелам, здесь не переводился херес. А теперь — только музыка, да и музыка-то с какими-то песьими модуляциями. Это ведь и в самом деле Иван Козловский поет, я сразу узнал, мерзее этого голоса нет. Все голоса у всех певцов одинаково мерзкие, но мерзкие у каждого по своему. Я поэтому их легко на слух различаю… Ну, конечно, Иван Козловский… «о-о-о, чаша моих прэ-э-эдков… О-о-о, дай мне наглядеться на тебя при свете зве-о-о-озд ночных…» ну, конечно, Иван Козловский… «о-о-о, для чего тобой я околдо-о-ован… Не отверга-а-ай…»
I am not commenting here on the quality of this and various other translations, I only have the book in Russian. Perhaps some time later I will, but here I'll just note that the book exists in English in several translations with different versions of the title which only proves that it has firmly established itself with the reading public.

 (all links to Amazon)
It is known as 'Moscow to the End of the Line' and also as 'Moscow Stations'  and 'Moscow Circles'. Yerofeev or Erofeev depends on how you prefer to transliterate names with Russian E. In French it came out as 'Moscou-sur-Vodka (Moscou-Pétouchki)'

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