So, What’s Going On?
What do you do when your family has vanished, your homeland is in turmoil, and it’s not safe to reveal your identity—not that you even remember it? In other words, “How do you become the person you’ve forgotten you ever were?”
Based on an actual historical mystery, the Broadway musical
Anastasia tells the story of Russia in the early 1900s, at a time of tension between the endangered monarchy and the rising power of the Bolshevik revolutionaries, who aim to take over the country. With the overthrow and assassination of the royal family comes a big unknown: Could one daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, have survived the turmoil and begun her own quest toward a new beginning? Well, what do you think?
Let’s find out!
Lights up on the luxury of a royal Russian palace, 1906, the home of the Russian tsar (the emperor of Russia) and his family, the Romanovs. Little Anastasia loves her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, who is about to leave for Paris, France. Before she departs, she gives Anastasia a music box by which to remember her. Anastasia and her grandmother dream of one day reuniting in Paris.
Caption: The Dowager Empress gives young Anastasia a music box that plays the song, “Once Upon a December.”
More than a decade later, in 1917, Anastasia dances at a royal ball—but the glamour of the night is gone in a moment as shots disrupt the festivities. Then, there’s an explosion—a flash of light—and the end of the Romanovs. Anastasia’s grandmother, still in France, learns by telegram that her entire family is dead.
But all is not as it appears, as whispers on the street of post-Revolutionary St. Petersburg (now Leningrad, named for the new leader, Vladimir Lenin) tell that Anastasia may have survived the murders. A con man, Vlad, (no relation to Vladimir Lenin), and his sidekick, the poor young Dmitry, conspire to find and train an Anastasia lookalike to impersonate the princess, earn the trust of the Dowager Empress, and secure a reward. Years have passed since Anastasia and her grandmother have seen each other—if they prime the imposter with just the right information, will her elderly grandmother really know the difference?
Vlad and Dmitry struggle to find a convincing Anastasia. Then, they meet a young woman with no memory of her past, the amnesiac street sweeper Anya, who makes the perfect faux princess. She’s the right age, a quick study, and falls into the part with surprising ease. She also feels drawn to Paris, though she can’t remember why.
Caption: Dmitry watches as Anya easily handles the used Romanov music box that Dmitry had purchased and was unable to open.
Meanwhile, news of the fraud reaches a young Soviet commissioner named Gleb, who has been tasked with looking out for “counter-revolutionary behavior”—the sort of behavior that Vlad, Dmitry, and Anya are engaging in by claiming that a member of the royal family is still alive. To make matters worse, Gleb’s family has a history of anti-tsarist violence; his father had been a Romanov guard and obeyed orders to fire on (and assassinate) the royal family as part of the revolution. Gleb warns Anya to give up her attempt at impersonating the princess, as it puts her life at risk.
Caption: After Anya startles at a loud sound, Gleb offers reassurance and an invitation to a nearby teashop.
As Act I closes, Vlad, Dmitry, and Anya carry out their plan. With the remainder of their money, they buy train tickets to flee Russia before the country’s borders close. Police raid the train, looking for aristocrats trying to escape. Gleb, it turns out, has been tasked by his supervisor with finishing the job his father helped start: Making sure the royals—and Anastasia in particular—are gone for good.
We join our crafty crew in Paris, where the Jazz Age, an era of jazz music, arts, and culture, is in full swing. It’s a bright, joyous city—a far cry from dreary conditions in Russia—and the trio is relieved to have made it there. Despite the initial relief of being free of Russia, Anya knows the stakes are high for her planned interactions with the Dowager Empress, who refuses to engage with claimants to the royal name after years of insult from imposters.
Caption: Anya arrives in Paris, where the beauty and freedom of the city fill her with hope.
For Anya, this job is not a con. Yes, she’s learned everything that Dmitry and Vlad have taught her—but she’s filling in memories they didn’t give her. How does she know how to open the music box? And that the Dowager Empress will smell like Sicilian orange blossoms? And that she’s met Dmitry once before, many years ago…? And will she ever find “home”?
Anastasia/Anya, as Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Russian emperor; as Anya, an amnesiac young woman The Dowager Empress, Anastasia’s grandmother The Tsarina, Anastasia’s mother The Tsar, Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia Gleb, a young Soviet official Gorlinsky, Gleb’s supervisor Dmitry, a poor young man who grew up on the streets of St. Petersburg Vlad Popov, a scammer, formerly traveled in aristocratic circles Count Ipolitov, Russian aristocrat and intellectual Lily, the Countess Malevsky-Malevich, the Dowager Empress’s lady-in-waiting Count Leopold, distant relative of the Dowager Empress
Check this out:
Find out more about the characters here: “Journey to Broadway: The Characters”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGoAZD74BxQ
Let’s Back Up: The Russian Revolution
Anastasia is based on a mystery that emerged after the murders of the last imperial family of Russia, the Romanovs. In 1917, a group of Communist revolutionaries called the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the royal family in a coup. After exiling the royal family, the Bolsheviks shot them, killing Tsar Nicholas Romanov II, the Tsarina, and their five children. This ensured that the Romanovs would never again ascend to the throne.
Caption: In 1913, Tsar Nicholas II with his family (left to right): Olga, Maria, Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana.
Credit: Public domain photo. Accessed from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Execution_of_the_Romanov_family#/media/File:Russian_Imperial_Family_1913.jpg
But hang on. Was the
entire family dead? After the murders, a rumor circulated that some members of the royal family—and Anastasia, in particular—might be alive. Indeed, several years later, a woman in Germany claimed to have survived the shooting and to be Anastasia.
Enter Anna Anderson.
The Mystery of the Real Anastasia
In 1920, a woman in Germany jumped into a canal and was committed to a psychiatric facility. When fellow patients conjectured that she might be a Russian royal, the woman allowed them to believe they were right and that, not only was she a royal, she was Anastasia. Soon, she took on the name Anna Anderson and, after she left the hospital, attempted to claim her identity as a royal.
Caption: A 1922 photo of Anna Anderson, who claimed until her death (in 1984) to have escaped the Bolsheviks and to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Credit: Accessed from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AnnaAnderson1922.jpg
Was Anna Anderson, in fact, Anastasia? The investigation proved challenging. What methods could be used to undercover a person’s identity given the lack of physical evidence associated with Anastasia? Without the benefit of fingerprints or dental records, investigators tried other methods to confirm this woman’s identity, including an examination of the shape of her ears compared to Anastasia’s.
Ultimately, after Anderson’s death, DNA testing allowed researchers to determine that Anderson was not Anastasia after all; she was a missing factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska. In 2007, a burial site in Russia yielded additional bodies, including one that DNA testing confirmed to be the remains of Anastasia, definitively closing the case on the Romanov mystery—and dynasty.
Your Russian Phrase Book
The first act of
Anastasia takes place in Russia in the early 1900s. There will most likely be a few titles, terms, and phrases you may not have heard before. Here’s a quick guide to some of them:
Tsar: an emperor of Russia Tsarina: an empress of Russia Grand Duchess: a daughter of the Russian tsar; princess Dowager Empress: the widow of the deceased emperor St. Petersburg/Leningrad: names for the same Russian city; called “St. Petersburg” from 1703-1914, “Petrograd” from 1914-1924, “Leningrad” (for Vladimir Lenin) from 1924-1991, and St. Petersburg again when the former Soviet Union collapsed Ruble: Russian currency Comrade: a fellow Communist Red: the official color of the Communists, which symbolizes the blood of the workers
What to Look and Listen for…
Not sure what to expect? Take two minutes and watch this video on all things “
https://youtu.be/vTinr8eXftM VIDEO Then look for:
The historical accuracy of costume designer Linda Cho’s work, from the ghostly beauty of the imperial family’s wardrobe to the neutral, desaturated colors used as the Bolsheviks take over. Pay attention to the Tsarina’s dress, which weighs about 50 pounds. Later, in the 1920s Jazz Age period in Paris, watch for bright, springtime colors and light fabrics.
How technology provides highly detailed settings. Using high-resolution LED screens embedded in the back wall and side turntables, projection designer Aaron Rhyne has made Anastasia the first Broadway musical to engage with this technology. Observe, too, how carefully selected stage lighting choices match the colors in the projections. Then listen for:
The language connections between Russia and Paris. Before the Bolshevik revolution, French was a commonly used language amongst the Russian nobility. In
Anastasia, you will hear the Tsar address his daughter as “ Mademoiselle” (Miss) when he asks her to dance. The Dowager Empress is on her way to Paris, where there is a bridge, Le Pont Alexandre, named for Anastasia’s grandfather. The way composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens evoke Russian musical tradition in their Act I compositions. The duo listened to Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, in order to prepare themselves to write the musical numbers. They used jazz pieces, such as “The Charleston,” as inspiration for the music of Act II, which takes places in Paris in the 1920s.
Musical themes that serve as connections, such as when the music box plays “Once Upon a December” at the start of Act I and again later in Act I and in Act II, serving both as a hint at Anya’s identity and as a sense of nostalgia for both the character and the audience.
Lyrics that reflect the play’s emphasis on “home, love, family.” As Anya says, “It’s never too late to come home.” Listen, too, for the lines that reveal the importance of self-worth and identity. The Dowager Empress captures this sentiment: “You can’t be anyone unless you first recognize yourself.”
Caption: The Pont Alexandre III in Paris, is an opulent bridge that was named for Anastasia’s grandfather.
Credit: Accessed at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pont_Alexandre_III#/media/File:Pont-Alexandre-III-et-Invalides.jpg
In what ways do Dmitry and Vlad feed Anya the information she needs to “be” Anastasia? Are there ways in which she seems to embody Anastasia naturally? Do you believe that she demonstrates enough independent knowledge of Anastasia’s life to truly be the princess?
To what extent does desperation caused by poor and/or dangerous living conditions in Communist Russia justify the characters’ decisions? Are Vlad and Dmitry dishonorable in their behaviors? Is Gleb?
Is it possible to understand your identity without remembering your past? What role does family, or lack thereof, play in Anya’s understanding of where she belongs? Consider, too, the attachment that Anya and others have to their homeland. To what extent do both external (for example, governmental) and internal (personal) factors complicate their departures from Russia?
Take Action: Who’s in Your Tree?
What do you know about your own family history? Cast and crew of
Anastasia underwent DNA testing to uncover their family histories. Just as Anya’s adventures led her to her long-lost grandmother and her forgotten childhood, genealogical work led the show’s stars to learn about their ethnic origins.
Try creating your own family tree, tracing your roots back as far as you can. When you exhaust your knowledge, ask family members to help you fill in more names and dates. You can also use online resources, including digital U.S. Census records, Ellis Island ship manifests, and other historical resources to find information about your family history.
Check out this sample to create your family tree:
Teacher & Parent Guide
Parents and Teachers: We’ve Got You Covered
Hey there, adults. We’re sure you’re already familiar with the concept of opera, but just in case you’re looking for a refresher or you want to go deeper, here are some thoughts that may be of interest:
Opera A 400-year-old genre born in Italy that was cultivated throughout Europe from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries and eventually made its way to the United States. As you’ve probably guessed, there will be singing. Lots of it. Just think of it as heightened speech. A soprano may hit a really high note when she’s angry or scared. A bass might lay down a low note when he wants to be extra menacing.
is a Pulitzer-Prize-wining opera by then first-time opera composer Kevin Puts, who was born in 1972 (yes, you read that correctly), and seasoned librettist Mark Campbell. Based on the French movie Silent Night Joyeux Noël, Silent Night tells the somewhat true story of the World War I ceasefire that was observed during the winter of 1914. As in the film, each of the characters in Silent Night speaks in their native tongues, meaning the performers mostly sing in three different languages, and even present some scenes in which lines are “translated” in real time by the singers themselves (as when Lieutenant Horstmayer has to translate Lieutenant Gordon’s words into French so that Lieutenant Audebert can understand them).
Although the language barriers in
Silent Night add an appropriate element of tension to this war-torn drama, it’s the music that makes the cultural differences among the soldiers in the opera most apparent.
Composer Kevin Puts deliberately infuses
Silent Night with musical references to each of the respective countries represented on stage, paying homage to each of their nationalistic traditions in equal measure. A German soldier will sometimes sing with the weight of the full orchestra behind him (complete with booming brass and crashing cymbals) à la some of the later German composers like Richard Wagner. A French soldier will often be accompanied by the sweeter sounds of the woodwinds—a trick often employed by turn-of-the-century French composers such as Claude Debussy. (You can probably see where we’re going with this.) As a result, what unfolds in front of the audience is a musical metaphor for World War I and the legendary ceasefire—a dissonant culture clash that resolves into soothing harmony only when the fighting stops.
NOTE: Silent Night is presented during this 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, which occurred on November 11, 1918. The armistice was an agreement between the fighting parties that symbolized the ending of the First World War.
Explore More This November
The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage will host a special (free) WNO
Silent Night concert performance on November 8, 2018, featuring music created during and inspired by World War I.
Learn more here:
Can’t make it in person?
Watch this livestream event November 8th at 6:00pm EST at:
Or after November 8th, here:
More Opportunities and Resources
In the Washington, D.C. area:
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Special events November 10-11, 2018 on the centennial of World War I’s end:
Library of Congress
Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I
An exhibit through January 2019 on how Americans were impacted by World War I at home and abroad.
Also available online:
On November 9, 2018, several cultural organizations across the United States (including Smithsonian institutions and the Washington National Opera) will be using the hashtag
#storiesofservice to share how Americans contributed toward making a difference during the war. To learn more about these stories, visit: https://americanhistory.si.edu/topics/world-war-i/pages/2018-social
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