Opera in 3 acts after the novelette of the same name by Nikolai Gogol.
CHARTKOV, painter: Tenor
NIKITA, his servant: Baritone
LANTERN CLEANER: Tenor
PROFESSOR OF PAINTING (Chartkov's teacher): Baritone
OWNER OF A PICTURE SHOP/DIGNITARY: Bass
LANDLORD / COUNT: Baritone
POLICEMAN / GENERAL: Bass
MARKET WOMAN / COURT MAIDEN: Soprano
FIRST MERCHANT / FIRST WAITER / TURK: Tenor
SECOND MERCHANT / SECOND WAITER / CAVALRYMAN: Tenor
THIRD MERCHANT: Bass
NOBLE LADY: Mezzo soprano
Girl (portrait of "Psyche"), the old man (portrait of Petromikhali), apprentices of the painter, people at the marketplace, public at the exhibition: silent roles or dancers
During a serious discussion on the Kalinkin Bridge in St. Petersburg, the young painter Chartkov is urgently warned by his teacher not to sell himself for a fast success with facile painting. After pensively observing the twenty kopek piece, all the cash he has, Chartkov heads home. A beautiful girl appears to him on the other side of the bridge; she reminds him of the “Psyche” that he has painted. For his last remaining money, the poor painter obtains the masterly painting of an old man from an art dealer. As soon as he has it, Chartkov already begins to regret the senseless purchase. He takes the picture to his shabby studio and hangs it on the wall. In a dream, he experiences how the old man steps out of the painting and comes alive, like the “Psyche.” The latter draws away from the desirous old man and disappears back into her picture. Before the old man also climbs back into his painting, he leaves a number of shining coins on the floor. While Chartkov is still pondering his strange dream, the landlord appears with the policeman, requesting the long overdue rent. When the newly bought painting is touched by chance, a thick roll of gold coins falls to the floor. Having become suddenly rich, the painter pays his debts and leaves the flat.
In an expensive restaurant, Chartkov becomes acquainted with a journalist whom he asks to advertise for him in the newspaper in exchange for good payment. New, well-to-do clients now throng into Chartkov’s new, luxuriously furnished studio on the Nevsky-Prospect, wishing to have their portraits done by the gifted painter. In the midst of his new affluence, the beautiful “Psyche” appears once again. But when he confesses his love to her and tries to hold her, she disappears just as she did the first time. The journalist, now a friend of the young successful painter, glimpses by chance the portrait of the old man in the studio. He explains to the owner of the painting that the old man is none other than the evil money-lender Petromikhali. Whoever accepts his money is lost. Disturbed by this, Chartkow covers up the mysterious painting with a cloth.
The years go by and Chartkov is a highly successful fashion painter. Having become fat and comfortable, he is utterly convinced of his own importance. When he receives an invitation to an exhibition by a young Russian painter at the Academy of the Arts, he can only force himself with great reluctance to attend the boring compulsory occasion. But he recognises the work of an overwhelmingly individual young talent. Once again the form of “Psyche” appears to him in glaring light and, as if in flight, Chartkov leaves the exhibition. Having arrived home, he sits in his studio, surrounded by all his so popular portraits, and he is devastated as it becomes clear to him that his own painting is arbitrary and empty. He curses the old man and hurls a candelabra at the painting, which remains undamaged as if by magic.
Chartkov accepts no more commissions for portraits. He feverishly attempts to complete his youthful work, “Psyche.” Visions of a “Psyche” having come to life visit him once again, and he is forced to realise that he is unable to complete the painting. Sunk into a big chair, he listens to the voices of his teacher, the market merchants and his many clients. Chartkow dies. In silent magic, the figures of “Psyche” and the old man rise out of their canvasses and disappear.