Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina features passionate love, abject misery and a hundred emotions in between. The epic romantic saga does not, traditionally, involve any inline skating, but that will change when a new musical version hits the Moscow stage this autumn.
Anna Karenina the musical will open at the Moscow Operetta theatre in October, with specially written music and a new libretto. The producers say that although the whole of Tolstoy’s sprawling novel cannot fit into a two-hour show, they remain faithful to the text throughout. The cast will wear costumes that are “of the period, but with elements of haute couture”.
Not all the musical takes place on inline skates, which are used in place of ice skates for winter scenes. At a rehearsal this week, the cast went through a scene set at a Moscow ice rink, in which wealthy landowner Levin proposes to Kitty. She turns him down as couples around them perform acrobatic skating routines.
Tolstoy’s novel has been adapted for screen and stage on numerous occasions. There have also been operatic and musical renditions, though none have become well known. In a 2012 film version, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard and starring Keira Knightley in the title role, the whole action takes place inside a theatre.
“The novel has everything. It’s maybe the most detailed exploration of relations between men and women,” said Vladimir Tartakovsky, the director of the Operetta theatre and one of the musical’s producers.
Tartakovsky said the character of Anna’s husband, Karenin – who has been portrayed as an unsympathetic villain in some film versions – is closer to the original in their musical; he can be sympathised with as a victim of his social situation.
“None of the characters are simplistic – they make the viewer think, and people can empathise with parts of all the characters,” said Alexei Bolonin, one of the co-producers of the musical.
Bolonin and Tartakovsky have staged several musicals at the Operetta theatre, including Count Orlov, a semi-factual tale about one of Catherine the Great’s nobles, which ran for four years and sold nearly 1m tickets.
Last year, a musical version of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment also appeared on the Moscow stage. Attempts to launch western musicals, such as Chicago, have been less successful in Moscow.
Until recently, there was little to fill the gap between pop music and high culture: there are four opera houses in Moscow but only three theatres that put on musicals. Bolonin said the popularity of musicals as a genre was growing in Russia.
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