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Alexander Preys

Librettist

Biography

Alexander Germanovich Preys, or Preis (1905–42) was a Russian playwright and librettist, who collaborated with Dmitry Shostakovich on the libretto for The Nose and co-authored the libretto for Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Preys was part of a literary circle in Leningrad that included Georgy Ionin and Yevgeny Zamyatin (also collaborators on The Nose). Like Shostakovich, Preys benefitted from the enthusiastic and experimental attitude to the arts in 1920s Russia, but later suffered under Stalin’s artistically conservative regime. According to Shostakovich’s disputed memoir Testimony), Preys was forced to work as a night-watchman at a sweet factory during the 1930s, to supplement his writing earnings. Shostakovich (again according to Testimony) spoke very highly of Preys, praising him both for his sensitive setting of Nikolai Leskov’s short story in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’s libretto, and for his completion of a Gogol comedy, St Vladimir of the Third Grade (though other sources cite Ionin as this play’s completer). Preys and Shostakovich planned to work together on a third opera, which according to Testimony was an original work on the emancipation of women, but which the Polish composer Krzysztof Meyer says was intended to be based on Gorky’s novel The Mother. The growing hostility to Lady Macbeth after 1936 meant that this work, whatever its subject, was never completed.

Preys died at the early age of 37 in Ekaterinburg. Shostakovich’s words as recorded in Testimony, ‘they killed him’, hint that he may have fallen foul of the Stalinist regime.