In Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, erotic energy is allowed a limited amount of expression because of the rules of morality and socialization in the human society. These constraints cause a sublimation, a defense mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses are unconsciously transformed into socially acceptable actions, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse. Such transference of libido into a physical act or a different emotion is believed to be order to avoid confrontation with the sexual urge. Creative work becomes an active outlet for the artist.
Throughout the history of the humankind homosexuality has been prohibited with few to no exceptions. History knows of many significant composers to have been gay, openly and more often not: C.Saint-Saens, F.Poulenc, A.Copland, P.Tchaikovsky, S.Barber, G.Menotti, B.Britten to name a few. To many mimicking patterns of life of straight men was painless, they got married and had kids, leaving affairs to the history. Of some we still do not know for certain and it remains an open question, amongst those F.Chopin, V.Bellini, G.Handel, F.Schubert. To most it has been an internal struggle, causing lives to be a constant agony of desire and acceptance. Such was the life of the great Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
His first brief engagement to a Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt and the latter disastrous marriage to Antonina Miliukova left him severely distressed and utterly devastated.
Discussion of Tchaikovsky’s personal life, especially his sexuality, has perhaps been the most extensive of any composer in the 19th century and certainly of any Russian composer of his time. It is thanks to Modest, his brother, who happened to preserve a large portion of his brother’s biography in over six hundred letters to his family and friends, that we know of his day-to-day life and his struggles. Many of them shed light onto his affections and his lovers. Such scandalous details barely escaped Soviet efforts to expunge all references to same-sex attraction and portray him as a heterosexual. Up to the date Russians would often think having no doubt in their minds that the famous Russian composer led a life of a straight man.
Throughout his very prolific artistic career Tchaikovsky composed many beautiful operas that are performed to this day in the biggest opera houses and concert halls around the world. All his life he felt oppressed and tainted with himself, crushed by the inability to escape himself. His official cause of death – cholera was equaled with suicide, purposely drinking tap water during the outbreak of cholera in St. Petersburg. Most of his friends wrote later, that he was depressed and speculated that this was no accident.
It is remarkable that during the darkest hours of his life he created the arguably most hopeful and light opera, portraying love as salvation to human condition. Iolanta, the protagonist of the story, burdened with blindness. A transcendent damsel in distress saved by a warrior. She falls in love and regains the gift of sight. It was short of having a unicorn. Iolanta is by far the most unlike others opera, having a happy ending and a fairy tale story line. But when examined closer one might see parallels with Tchaikovsky’s own “affliction” and Iolanta’s blindness and how he saw the all-known love-conquers-all solution. A true fairy tale of a crying heart.
New Opera NYC will present operas Iolanta and Boris Godunov in a double-bill at the Cowell Theater of Fort Mason Center on April 15&16 at 7:30 PM. For tickets go to www.nonyc.org