Puppet Desert

 St Petersburg, Russia

Our Russian friend Yuri Sobolev, arranged this commission with his producer friend, Mischa Husid. At this time Mischa was director of a Puppet Theatre in Cheliabinsk (east of the Urals) but by the time the project was completed, 1988, he was director of the State Puppet Theatre in Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad). Mischa invited us (Brigitte and me) to visit Russia in Oct. 1988. At this stage he was commuting between Leningrad and Cheliabinsk and hoped to be able to show us both places (plus Moscow). Cheliabinsk, however, still had nearby military installations and foreigners were not permitted to go there so we received visas only for Moscow and Leningrad.

I had already received the Russian text, with English summary, some months before, and I had tapes of Yuri reading the Russian texts I was to set, so I was able to take most of the songs with me on tape. Mischa was delighted, as was (I think) the author of the work who travelled with us by train (overnight) between Moscow and Leningrad and back. There were numerous non-sung musical and sound effects, which we also discussed and the following spring Mischa visited us in Eglisau to complete the project. The piece was produced (after long delays) and we received a Video of the production which looked quite splendid, but which, in spite of knowing the story well, was difficult for us to follow.

The Russians love drawing up contracts. I had one with the state theatre for this work. It promised me 2000 rubles (about CHF 5000) for the completed piece. A year later, however, when the Iron Curtain fell for ever, the ruble depreciated to the extent that it wasn’t even worth picking up what was owed to me.