Natalka Poltavka – A Legendary Tale of Love
Ukrainian writer, poet and playwright, Ivan Kotlyarevsky’s renowned play, Natalka Poltavka, has certainly stood the test of time. Written in 1819 and first performed on stage in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, in 1821, Natalka Poltavka (Natalka from Poltava) has been made into a number of films, both in Ukraine and abroad in the early to mid 1900s. The story was also the inspiration and basis for the operetta by Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko, which premiered in 1889 and is still enjoyed today.
In keeping with the spirit of Ukrainian national rebirth relating to the period in which Natalka Poltavka was written, the story is intricately wound around the lives of the common Ukrainian people. It is believed that this down-to-earth element has been instrumental in the play’s immense popularity in Ukraine, back in the time it was written and right through to the present day. Both this play, and other works by Ivan Kotlyarevsky, had a profound influence on dramatic literature in Ukraine in the 19th century.
The story of Natalka Poltavka follows the lives, trials and tribulations of sweethearts Natalka and Petro. Their plans for marriage are cut short by Natalka’s father because he feels that Petro will not be able to provide for Natalka to the level that he felt his daughter deserved. Determined to win the hand of his beloved, Petro goes off to seek his fortune. While he is away, Natalka’s father dies, leaving his family destitute, resulting in them being forced to move into poor peasant accommodations. Five years pass with no word from Petro, and with the family in a desperate situation, Natalka agrees to marry an old, fairly wealthy government official. Before the marriage takes place, Petro returns, having amassed a small fortune. Upon hearing that his beloved is promised in marriage to another, Petro is not prepared to leave the matter there. Tensions increase between the characters, until the lovers are reunited and love triumphs over all.
Many versions and adaptations of Natalka Poltavka have come and gone over the years, including a variant produced in 2007 by the Kiev Opera where the orchestra featured traditional Ukrainian folk instruments. However, it is the operetta by Mykola Lysendo which has become a classic, returning to the stage of the Ukrainian State Opera, as well as the Kiev Conservatory, time and again – to the delight of appreciative audiences.