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Spartacus, A. Khatchaturian

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

"Spartacus", this masterpiece of music and ballet was written by Abram Khatchaturian (1903-1978), an Armenian composer. “Spartacus” reflects 21st century events more than ever. The struggle for justice and freedom, the self-sacrifice for life, dignity and the future, remains a central theme of wars over the centuries.

Spartacus - A. Khatchaturian, Katerina Barsukova - sand art, On the Name of Liberty
Spartacus - A. Khatchaturian, Katerina Barsukova - dessin sur sable

In December 1941, in the most tragic days of World War II, Aram Khachaturian reported in a newspaper article about his creative plans: "In 1941, on the order of the Bolshoi Theatre, with the librettist Nikolay Volkov and the ballet master Igor Moiseyev I began to work on the ballet «Spartacus». It should be a monumental heroic production, which will show the spectator the best man of all ancient history, who, in Marx’s words, is Spartacus".

This image, which had attracted Khachaturian for a long time, seemed particularly relevant to him in the context of the fierce struggle of the Russian people during the WWII. The composer also mentioned it in one of the articles: "Some were surprised by my choice of this theme, I was juged for going into the depth of the story. But it seems to me that the theme of Spartacus and the slave rebellion in ancient Rome is of great importance in our time and has a great social echo. It is necessary for peoples to know and remember the names of those who, at the dawn of human history, boldly rose up against the slavery for their freedom and independence.”

However, work on the ballet was delayed for many years.

In 1950, Khatchaturian went to Italy, saw the Colosseum, the Appian Way. Maybe it’s those impressions that got him back to writing the ballet. Work on the music continued for three and a half years - the last point was put in the score in early February 1954.

The premiere of «Spartacus» took place at the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre in Leningrad (now the Mariinsky Theatre) on December 27, 1956. The show was highly acclaimed by the public and critics causing an emotional storm. Everyone was amazed by the extraordinary staging, it seemed that the heroes were animated sculptures, which descended from historical pages, ancient mosaics, and above them all dominated the image of the hero – Spartacus.

Today, “Spartacus” reflects 21st century events better than ever. The struggle for justice and freedom, the self-sacrifice for life, dignity and the future, remains a central theme of wars over the centuries.

«Spartacus» by Khatchaturian is a brilliant work, because it is multifaceted, it covers all aspects of the madness of war. On the background of orgies, abuses, looting, moral decadence and stupidity they occur in parallel the monstrous atrocities, the death, the wounds, the pain of mothers and wives, the broken lives of children, the pain and disappointment of the elderly. History teaches nothing, wars and tiranism are raging again, and the representatives of the old and new world are again in conflict.

The interpretation of "Spartacus" by Katerina Barsukova is built on contrasts that tear the reality between feast and disaster, between comfort and ruin, between glory and humiliation. They divide human identity into humanist and beast, friend and enemy. The war removes the semitones, draws a red line where it might not exist. In the midst of the bombing, we listen to the cheerful music and laughter of children somewhere on the other side of the planet, in another reality. This collission will probably make someones laugh, others will feel uncomfortable, and some will be afraid.

Glory to the heroes!

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