Portraits of Irkutsk

The Play Farewell to Matyora

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Full interview with actors

On March 10, 2017, Gennadiy Shaposhnikov’s production of Valentin Rasputin’s Farewell to Matyora premiered at the Irkutsk Academic Drama Theater named after N.P. Okhlopkov. The play premiered on the 80th anniversary of Valentin Rasputin’s birth, shortly before the museum was opened. The play has a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, and while not every aspect of the book is represented in the play, the same appeal is undoubtedly present. Though it was admittedly difficult for me to understand the dialects that the characters spoke with, the emotional impact of the performance on the audience was clear. After seeing the play, I sat down and talked with actors Natalia Vasilievna Koroleva, who plays the main character Darya, and Sergei Dubyanskiy, who plays Andrei, Darya’s grandson, in order to better understand the production, as well as the larger relevance of Farewell to Matyora and Valentin Rasputin.

The Play and the Book

The genre of the production of Farewell to Matyora is described by the director as a “dramatic story,” which shows the “total death of the Russian village, which is impossible to find in Rasputin’s work.” Certain aspects of the book are not represented in the play, and other aspects have been added. Many of the aspects from the book that are absent in the play are due to the constraints of theatrical production, including the presence of the Angara river, and of the fire that burns one of the resident's homes. When I asked the actors what sorts of differences manifest between the play and the book, Natalia Vasilievna mentioned the absence of the master of the island, a mythical creature described as "slightly bigger than a cat, and not resembling any other animal..." As Rasputin writes, the master saw and knew all that occurred on the island, but he was never seen by any body. Another aspect she mentioned was the absence of the listven', or larch, a massive tree that towered over Matyora.

Themes in Farewell to Matyora

Disconnect Between Generations

As was previously mentioned, one of the major conflicts in Farewell to Matyora is the schism between old and young. The older residents place higher value on tradition, they cannot leave Matyora because of their deep attachment to their ancestors, the village, and the island. The younger residents, however, are focused on the future and the development of industry. They do not possess as strong of an attachment to Matyora as the former does. Sergei described the nature of Andrei's relationship with Matyora, explaining that while Andrei loves Matyora, "...he thinks that everything there has stagnated in one place. You need to develop and move forward, and everyone there, it's like they're in one place and they don't want to move..."

"He loves Matyora, but thinks that it would need to change, if possible."

The Village Today

The problems addressed in Farewell to Matyora continue to exist 40 years after the book was published. Describing Farewell to Matyora, the Drama Theater’s website states that “...In his work, Valentin Rasputin touched upon one of the important problems of the modern world: how villages and houses are disappearing, and with them the fates of people, families, generations and their history are forgotten.” The farther that industrialization progresses, small towns and villages become less populated as people move to large cities. While younger generations can adapt, for older generations it is much more difficult.
I asked Natalia Koroleva and Sergei Dubyanskiy if they thought that the village had any chance of surviving, or if their fates would be the same as Matyora's. Sergei expressed hope that the village would survive, so long as "...some kind of logical evolution and modernization" took place. Natalia expressed some doubt and asked who exactly would pay for the technology required to modernize. "I don't know what will be of our villages," she says, but makes clear that she is not as optimistic as Sergei.

Modern Relevance of Matyora

Both Natalia Koroleva and Sergei Dubyanskiy agreed that village prose and Farewell to Matyora are still relevant today. Natalia explained that the literary movement is "...about man, about his troubles, about his problems and joys." Sergei went on to describe how village prose is not simply about villages, but rather it is about the human soul. "This theme will be eternal, I think."


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