Vasya Whitefeet is an opera written for, and to be performed by, children. Based on the Russian-Romany tale of the same name, the work is designed for staging by youngsters with a modicum of musical ability. The work was commissioned by Sarah Beernink for the Muziekschool Noordwest Veluwe, Netherlands. The vocal lines are all composed within a preadolescent child’s range (c' to e-flat"). Instrumentation requires piano four-hands, violin, tambourine, triangle, and large bodhran. The piano score incorporates mostly static hand positions, and the violin parts are entirely in first position (though a moderate degree of facility is required). The percussion parts are easily played by any child with an adequate understanding of rhythm and meter. The opera (which is more of a musical play) is in one act with seven scenes which alternate between two settings that may be constructed on a single stage, requiring no actual changes of scenery. Performance time is approximately 45 minutes.
The stage is divided into two sets. On stage right is the porch and yard of Vasya’s home; on stage left is a Romany (Gypsy) camp. The action alternates between the two sets. A wall or curtain may serve as a divide, or the scenes may be delineated by means of lighting.
All costumes are traditional Russian Romany attire of the nineteenth century. Vasya (as Vasya Whitefeet) wears very elaborate clothing, but as Vasya the fool he is adorned very shabbily.
As the opera is to be performed by children, instrumentation is kept to a minimum. The score calls for piano four-hands, violin, tambourine, triangle and large bodhran. The piano score is suitable for advancing beginners, and the percussion parts are likewise very simple. While the violin part is entirely in first position, it assumes a moderate degree of facility in playing double-stops, harmonics, and slightly unusual rhythmic patterns.
Since the work is designed for children rather than for professional singers, most of the dialogue is spoken. The vocal lines are constructed as fairly simple songlike passages and require few extensive solos. The compass is from c' to e-flat". Several choruses are incorporated, all to be sung in unison, and these allow all the cast to participate musically in the production.
Vasya — The main character (boy). 2 vocal solos & spoken lines
Mother — Vasya’s mother (girl). 1 vocal solo & spoken lines
Rosa — Vasya’s bride (girl). 1 vocal solo & spoken lines
Bota — Vasya’s friend in the camp (boy). Spoken lines
Narrator — Spoken lines (adult)
Secondary (spoken lines only except for choruses):
Ataman — The camp chieftan
Luka — A male member of the camp
Mala — A female member of the camp
Milosh — A male member of the camp
Pesha — A female member of the camp
Shandor — A male member of the camp
Servants — Servants at Vasya’s home
Camp — Various other members of the Romany camp
Vasya’s house. Vasya’s mother congratulates him on the occasion of his twentieth birthday. She presents him with a ceremonial dagger indicating that he is now a man and may assume the responsibility of becoming head of the house and inheriting all his late father’s wealth. Vasya says that though he wishes for nothing, it is his desire to go about and see how other Roma live. His mother thinks this a wise choice, but she reminds him that he is unusually fair for a Rom (hence the name Whitefeet) and fears he may be mistaken for a gadjo. Vasya has planned for this: He will darken his complexion so as to be more readily accepted in other camps. Furthermore, he will don shabby clothes and smear his face with dirt and mud to see if others will accept him for what he is rather than for his wealth. Receiving his mother’s blessing to go and see how to make a living, he does as he has planned.
Gypsy camp. Vasya arrives at a Gypsy camp as they are singing round the campfire. He approaches the fire where the others greet him as a “Calo Rom.” They take him for a harmless fool. Vasya, for his part, behaves like a buffoon, eliciting much laughter from the camp. Several days pass, and the Roma have great fun with Vasya, good-naturedly kidding him about his appearance and foolish ways. Later one evening they gather round the campfire again where Bota is playing the violin. Vasya asks him if he can try his hand at it. Bota asks if he knows how to play, and Vasya responds, “How should I know how to play unless I give it a go?” All laugh and expect nothing but screeching from the instrument, but Vasya instead plays beautifully. From that time on Vasya becomes a camp favorite, playing for them every night. But he continues living like a fool, sleeping on the bare earth using his boots as a pillow. Later word comes that the ataman’s daughter Rosa has been promised to a neighboring man, Tobar Dunka, and a great wedding is being planned. Rumor has it that Rosa is not fond of her future groom, but she cannot go against her father’s word. At that news Vasya secretly sets off for home.
Vasya’s home. Arriving home, Vasya tells his mother to bring out his best attire and prepare his bath. When she asks what this is for, he tells her that Rosa’s father is planning to wed her to an old widower and that perhaps he will save her the trouble. “I’ll just have a look and see if she’s as pretty as they say.” Mother reminds him that a father’s word should not be crossed, but she agrees to let him to do as he wishes.
Scene 4 Gypsy camp. Vasya returns to the camp well groomed and carrying his favorite fiddle. The others do not recognize his true identity. They all ask Vasya to play for them, and he plays such a tender and sad melody that Rosa weeps over her bitter fate. She is enamored of this handsome fiddler and wishes she could be his bride instead, but she cannot say so outwardly. After Vasya finishes playing, the others busy themselves with gossip and games, and Vasya takes the opportunity to speak privately to Rosa. He says he knows she doesn’t love Tobar Dunka and convinces her to run off with him instead. After some deliberation, she agees. They discreetly slip away, and when the others realize Rosa is gone they also notice that the fiddler has disappeared as well. Surmising what has happened, Rosa’s father flies into a rage and sends men out to find them. But Vasya has outdistanced them and they return empty-handed.
Vasya’s home. Vasya brings Rosa to his mother and introduces her as her new daughter. Mother accepts the situation but says her heart aches because they have not had a proper Roma wedding. Vasya tells her she will not be disappointed as they will have their wedding, but he must invite his friends from the camp. With that he dons his fool’s attire and again darkens his face and returns to the camp.
Gypsy camp. Arriving at the camp, he finds it abuzz with the news of Rosa’s flight with a fair-skinned fiddler. They ask foolish Vasya if he knows who the stranger was. “I do indeed,” he says. “It was I.” They all laugh at this, believing it to be one of his pranks and joke with him to no end. He tells them to laugh as much as they like, but when they’re done they should come to his wedding at a wealthy friend’s house where there will be plenty to eat. They wonder what this all could be about, but they decide to go with him thinking they’ve nothing to lose. If Vasya is lying, they’ll tan his hide; if not, at least they will enjoy a good feed. So Vasya leads them to his own house, but rushes ahead as they near and washes and changes into his good clothes.
Vasya’s house. Vasya comes out to greet the guests but has the brim of his hat turned so that they cannot see his face. He asks if they are the Roma his friend invited. They reply that they are. Vasya invites them in, saying they’ve been expecting them. As they enter the yard they see a large banquet waiting. Each is given a new set of clothes and is in turn groomed and trimmed. They then take their places at the table and revel in the quantity of food and drink. Vaysa at last raises his glass to offer a toast to the bride and groom: Rosa and Vasya Whitefeet. They then ask where this Vasya Whitefeet is as they do not see him anywhere. At that Vasya takes up the violin and plays a familiar tune. As realization dawns, the guests surmise that he is Vasya Whitefeet. He tells them not to fear as they never did him any harm: “You fed me and took me in, even though I was a fool. And as for your joking, I forgive you, for laughter makes you forget your cares and woes.” The full cast celebrates the marriage of Vasya and Rosa.
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