115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Inexplicably Harassed By The Ubiquitous Orchestra": Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita As Operatic Novel

LynleyShimat Renée Lys, University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa

This paper examines opera as a formal element of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, which incorporates elements from Goethe’s Faust and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, based on Pushkin’s lyric novel. Bulgakov structures his novel around operatic elements, including the aria, heightened lyrical forms of dialogue, choral and orchestral structures, and the timbre of characters' voices.

Proposal: 

Mikhail Bulgakov, as a dramaturg and novelist on the cutting edge of modern literature, had a particularly hard time under the Soviet system of government sponsored literary societies and the general atmosphere of bureaucracy and oppression. In The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov makes extensive use of elements of opera in order to stretch and redefine the definition of the novel, as well as to critique the dramatic claims of both the Soviet government and the canon of Russian literature.

 

In the epigraph to the novel, he offers a short dialogue from Goethe’s Faust: "... who are you really, in the end? -I - am that force which always wants evil and always commits good.” This interchange hints at the subject of the novel and introduces the aspect of opera as well, through its dialogue format and the work to which it refers. Bulgakov uses the dialogue format extensively throughout the course of the novel, often accompanied by references to the quality and timbre of characters' voices. He alludes frequently to Pushkin, who worked in multiple genres and whose work has been adapted as a Tchaikovsky opera, as well as to foundational Russian musical, dramatic, and operatic works. Bulgakov goes beyond allusions and structures his novel around operatic elements, including the aria, heightened lyrical forms of dialogue, choral and orchestral structures, and the timbre of characters' voices.