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The Story of 'Mazeppa'

ACT ONE begins in the garden of Mariya's home, where she's talking with a few friends. Left alone, Mariya reveals that she's in love with Mazeppa, even though he's old enough to be her father. And there's another complication: A young Cossack named Andrei is head over heels for Mariya. But when he shows up to plead his case, she turns him away, and he leaves disappointed.

Mariya's father Kochubey comes into the garden, along with his wife Lyubov and Mazeppa himself. Mazeppa tells Kochubey that he wants to marry Mariya. Kochubey doesn't much like the idea, and the two men argue. Angrily, Mazeppa says that his men will carry Mariya away by force if it comes to that. But Mariya tells her father that she loves Mazeppa, and she leaves with him willingly.

In the next scene, Kochubey plans to get even. He knows that Mazeppa is about to join with the Swedes against Russia, and decides to reveal Mazeppa's plan to the czar. Andrei asks to be sent as Kochubey's messenger to the czar's court, and the people denounce Mazeppa as the act ends.

As ACT TWO begins, Kochubey is in a dungeon suffering interrogation by Mazeppa's henchman Orlik. Orlik knows that Kochubey is a rich man, and demands to know where his money is hidden. Kochubey refuses to talk and Orlik calls for a torturer.

Meanwhile, Mazeppa is in his palace pondering the situation. Mariya doesn't know that he has taken her father prisoner, and Mazeppa worries about how she'll react when she finds out. Orlik arrives, and when he tells Mazeppa that Kochubey has refused to give up his treasure, Mazeppa orders Kochubey's execution.

Mariya joins Mazeppa, and wonders out loud about his obvious distress. He describes his dangerous plan to defy the czar and fight for Ukraine's freedom, and Mariya says she's willing to die in his cause. Mazeppa wants to know what she would do if he and her father wound up on opposite sides of the conflict. Out of love, Mariya says she would stand with Mazeppa.

When Mazeppa leaves, Mariya's mother Lyubov quietly enters. She tells Mariya that Kochubey has been condemned to death, on Mazeppa's orders. While this news is sinking in, they hear the execution ceremony beginning and the two women rush off, hoping to stop it.

At the execution platform, a noisy crowd has gathered to observe the beheadings. Just as Mariya and Lyubov arrive, the axe falls.

ACT THREE opens with a bombastic orchestral interlude depicting the historic battle of Poltava. The battle goes badly for Mazeppa, and his army is routed.

When the fighting ends, Andrei enters the garden of Mariya's family home, seeking refuge. Mazeppa and Orlik also appear. They've escaped the battle and are now on the run. When Andrei confronts Mazeppa the two draw swords, and Andrei is mortally wounded.

It's late at night, and by the moonlight the men see Mariya coming from the house. Her father's death and the bloody battle have been too much for her, and her condition is revealed in a poignant mad scene.

Mazeppa is still in love with Mariya and he's clearly moved. But Orlik knows they're in danger and persuades Mazeppa to move on, leaving Mariya behind.

Mariya finds Andrei lying on the ground, near death. In her delusional state she sees him as a small child, and she sings him to sleep as the opera quietly ends.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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