Purely by chance, I ended up having three Tolstoy related excursions in a single weekend.
On Thursday, my group went to go see a ‘drama-lecture’ of Anna Karenina with Nabokov’s commentary. We first had a back stage tour at the theater “U Nikitskih Vorot” (transliteration is hard), which was this small, very avant-garde theater. Our tour guide, the son of one of the set creators, told us the theater was only non-professionals. We asked him how long the show was (we had a very early morning the next day), and he told us it was about 3 hours long. I had very low expectations for how much I would like the show, but it turned out to be much better than I had anticipated. It was essentially the entire story of Anna Karenina but with Nabokov acting as narrator, commenter, and occasionally comedian. He really helped move the plot along; for example, I only started getting sleepy when he stopped commenting as much early on in the second half. Although I could only follow the dialogue half of the time, the actions of the actors helped me fully understand the storyline. True to the avant-garde nature of the theater, the music included everything from African tribal music to Tchaikovsky, and some of the scenes were rather abstract.
The following morning, we all met at a Metro station in one of the most southern districts of Moscow at 7:30. From there, we took a two hour, non air conditioned bus drive to Tyla, the town closest to Tolstoy’s estate, where he spent his final days and where he wrote Anna Karenina. Tolstoy’s estate is officially called Yasnaya Polyana, and the rooms are much like how they were when Tolstoy lived there. It’s a beautiful estate, with sprawling gardens, orchards, and buildings for the serfs who lived there. There’s even a school that Tolstoy opened, now a literary museum. It was wonderful to breathe the fresh air after so much time of breathing Moscow’s city air and walk without hearing the sounds of passing cars. While there, I had to be careful to not accidentally become part of a wedding party’s photos. Even so, I think American students showed up in the background of several photos. If one walks down a long path, deep into the forest, one can come across Tolstoy’s grave. It’s a simple grass covered mound, with no headstone or fanfare. On our return, we stopped at Тульский пряник, Tyla’s famous gingerbread store and factory. I bought some for my family back in the States because according to my one of my Russian professors, they keep for a year.
The following Saturday evening, I traveled to the first professional ballet I would ever see. In Moscow, of all places. It was Anna Karenina, at the Moscow Academic Musical Theater. According to my resident director, it has an even better troupe in the summertime than the one that takes over the Bolshoi theater’s stage in the summer. I had a great seat, second balcony, first row, from where I had a commanding view of the stage and also of the pit, where I could observe the musicians. The ballet itself was everything I had hoped for and more. The dancers didn’t miss a beat, I couldn’t find a flaw with the orchestra’s playing, and the ballet included sets with lots of dancers and overwhelming color but also simple duets. At one point in the second half, the orchestra started playing a piece I was shocked to recognize from my study play list. While I grappled with organic chemistry, I never imagined myself hearing the same piece at a ballet in Moscow.