When we asked you to translate the libretto of The Snow Maiden, did you already know the opera?
André markowicz: I had a long-standing relationship with the work. I
had read the play by Ostrovski from which the libretto is taken. I can’t
remember when. Perhaps when I was an adolescent. I had never heard
Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, except for a few arias. On the other hand, I knew the
story of the Snow Maiden. Through fairy stories. During my childhood.
Snegurochka and Grandfather Frost are among the characters that accompany every
child in Russia. Grandfather Frost is a variation on Father Christmas. Does he
also bring presents? I think so. To tell you the truth, I’m not that familiar
with Russian folklore. I realised that whilst working on this translation.
Numerous words used by Ostrovski, particularly concerning clothes, headwear and
the ranks of courtiers and state employees, were unknown to me.
How would you describe the style of the libretto?
The snow melts in the sun but, with that as his starting point, Ostrovski succeeds in creating a whole that does not melt away but which holds together: a work of art. André Markowicz
Did this variety give you some difficult problems to solve during the three months that you spent on the translation of this libretto?
A.M.: Yes. It was actually the principal difficulty. Not only do the characters express themselves in different “languages” but, within each character, within each situation, one finds a whole series of different linguistic registers. How does one translate them when there is no equivalent in French? For me, this was a veritable balancing act. I had to invent forms that don’t exist. For example, take this aria sung by Dame Spring:
Fleurs parfumées, printanières
Sur la neige de tes joues,
Blanc muguet dans la lumière
Pour la langueur de l’amour.
Sur tes lèvres, nulle trace
Du mépris des gens de prix
Perfumed spring flowers
On the snow of your cheeks,
White lily of the valley in the light
For the languor of love.
On your lips, no trace
Of the scorn of people of quality.
There was no French equivalent for these lines of Russian. They are not comparable with any 18th or 19th century French text. Even less so with more recent texts. And this was the case with every line. The three months that I spent working on this translation were exhausting.
These different “languages”
stem from the very essence of the text: the confrontation between two worlds,
that of the sun and that of the snow. The snow melts in the sun but, with that
as his starting point, Ostrovski succeeds in creating a whole that does not
melt away but which holds together: a work of art.
During this period, was Rimsky-Korsakov’s music a source of inspiration for you?
Stage Director Dmitri Tcherniakov really liked your translation of the heroine’s name: “Fleur de neige” (Snow Flower)…
Interview by Simon Hatab
Your reading: Translating “The Snow Maiden”