The Master and Margarita (Russian: «Ма́стер и Маргари́та») is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, written between 1928 and 1940 but unpublished in book form until 1967. The story concerns a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheisticSoviet Union. Many critics consider it to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, as well as the foremost of Soviet satires. In part, it is an outcry against a suffocatingly bureaucratic social order.
Bulgakov started writing the novel in 1928. He burned the first manuscript of the novel in 1930, seeing no future as a writer in the Soviet Union. The work was restarted in 1931. In 1935 Bulgakov went to the Spaso House, the residence of U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union William Bullitt, which was transformed by Bulgakov into the Walpurgis Night ball of the novel. The second draft was completed in 1936, by which point all the major plot lines of the final version were in place. There would follow four other versions. Bulgakov stopped writing four weeks before his death in 1940, leaving the novel with some unfinished sentences and loose ends.
A censored version, with about 12 percent of the text removed and still more changed, was first published in Moscow magazine (no. 11, 1966 and no. 1, 1967). The YMCA Press in Paris, best celebrated for publishing the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published the first book edition. The text of all the omitted and changed parts, with indications of the places of modification, was printed and distributed by hand (in a dissident practice known as samizdat). In 1969, the publisher Posev (Frankfurt) printed a version produced with the aid of these inserts.
In the Soviet Union, the first complete version, prepared by Anna Saakyants, was published by Khudozhestvennaya Literatura in 1973, based on the version completed at the beginning of 1940, as proofread by the publisher. This version remained the canonical edition until 1989, when the last version, based on all available manuscripts, was prepared by Lidiya Yanovskaya.
The novel alternates between two settings. The first is 1930s Moscow, where Satan appears at the Patriarch Ponds in the guise of "Professor" Woland, a mysterious gentleman "magician" of uncertain origin. He arrives with a retinue that includes the grotesquely dressed valet Koroviev; the mischievous, gun-happy, fast-talking black cat Behemoth; the fanged hitman Azazello; the pale-faced Abadonna; and the witch Hella. They wreak havoc targeting the literary elite and its trade union MASSOLIT.[note 1] Its privileged HQ is Griboyedov's House and is made up of corrupt social climbers and their women (wives and mistresses alike), bureaucrats, profiteers, and, more generally, skeptical unbelievers in the human spirit.
The second setting is the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate, described by Woland in his conversations with Berlioz and later echoed in the pages of the Master's novel. This part of the novel concerns Pontius Pilate's trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri, his recognition of an affinity with, and spiritual need for, Yeshua and his reluctant but resigned submission to Yeshua's execution.
Part one of the novel opens with a direct confrontation between the unbelieving head of the literary bureaucracy, Berlioz, and an urbane foreign gentleman (Woland) who defends belief and reveals his prophetic powers. Berlioz brushes off the prophecy of his death, only to have it come true just pages later in the novel. The fulfillment of this death prophecy is witnessed by a young and enthusiastically modern poet, Ivan Ponyrev, who writes his poems under the alias Bezdomny ("homeless"). His futile attempt to chase and capture the "gang" and warn of their evil and mysterious nature lands Ivan in a lunatic asylum. There, Ivan is introduced to the Master, an embittered author, the petty-minded rejection of whose historical novel about Pontius Pilate and Christ leads him to such despair that he burns his manuscript and turns his back on the "real" world, including his devoted lover, Margarita.
Major episodes in the first part of the novel include a satirical portrait of the Massolit and their Griboyedov house; Satan's magic show at the Variety Theatre, satirizing the vanity, greed and gullibility of the new rich; and Woland and his retinue capturing the late Berlioz's apartment for their own use.
Part two of the novel introduces Margarita, the Master's mistress, who refuses to despair of her lover or his work. She is invited to the Devil's midnight ball, where Woland offers her the chance to become a witch with supernatural powers. This takes place the night of Good Friday, with the same spring full moon as when Christ's fate is sealed by Pontius Pilate and he is crucified in Jerusalem, which is also dealt with in the Master's novel. All three events in the novel are linked by this.
Learning to fly and control her unleashed passions (not without exacting violent retribution on the literary bureaucrats who condemned her beloved to despair) and taking her enthusiastic maid Natasha with her, Margarita enters naked into the realm of night. She flies over the deep forests and rivers of the USSR, bathes and returns with Azazello, her escort, to Moscow as the anointed hostess for Satan's great Spring Ball. Standing by his side, she welcomes the dark celebrities of human history as they arrive from Hell.
She survives this ordeal without breaking; and, for her pains, Satan offers to grant Margarita her deepest wish. Margarita selflessly chooses to liberate a woman whom she met at the ball from the woman's eternal punishment: the woman was raped and had later suffocated her newborn by stuffing a handkerchief in its mouth. Her punishment was to wake up every morning and find the same handkerchief lying on her nightstand. Satan grants her first wish and offers her another, citing that the first wish was unrelated to Margarita's own desires. For her second wish, she chooses to liberate the Master and live in poverty-stricken love with him.
Neither Woland nor Yeshua appreciates her chosen way of life, and Azazello is sent to retrieve them. The three drink Pontius Pilate's poisoned wine in the Master's basement. Master and Margarita die, though their death is metaphorical as Azazello watches their physical manifestations die. Azazello reawakens them, and they leave civilization with the Devil as Moscow's cupolas and windows burn in the setting Easter sun. The Master and Margarita, for not having lost their faith in humanity, are granted "peace" but are denied "light"--that is, they will spend eternity together in a shadowy yet pleasant region similar to Dante's depiction of Limbo, having not earned the glories of Heaven, but not deserving the punishments of Hell. As a parallel to the Master and Margarita's freedom, Pontius Pilate is released from his eternal punishment when the Master finally calls out to Pontius Pilate telling him he's free to finally walk up the moonbeam path in his dreams to Yeshua, where another eternity awaits.
Some say the idea of the novel came to Bulgakov after he visited the office of the Bezbozhnik, a satirical atheist magazine. It was also said that the first "Black magic" performance in the novel happened on 12 June — on 12 June 1929, the first Godless people convention started in Moscow, featuring speeches by Nikolai Bukharin and Yemelyan Yaroslavsky.
There are several interpretations of the novel itself:
Response to aggressive atheistic propaganda
One interpretation of the novel is that it is Bulgakov's response to poets and writers who he saw as starting atheist propaganda in the Soviet Russia, denying Jesus Christ as a historical character, particularly, to antireligious poems of Demyan Bedny. As such the novel can be seen as a rebuke to the aggressive "godless people". It is no accident that in both Moscow and Judea part of the novel the reader can see justification of the whole devil's image. Jewish demonology characters are a deliberate retort to the denial of God in the USSR.
Bulgakov was trying to write an apologia proving the existence of the spiritual world. However, the attempt is ad absurdum – the novel shows the reality of evil and demonic powers in this world. And the resulting question is, "If those powers exist, and the world is run by Woland and his entourage, why does this world still exist?".
One of the main ideas of the book is that the source of evil is inseparable from the our world as light is from the darkness. Both Satan and Jesus Christ dwell mostly inside people. Jesus was unable to see Judas' treachery, despite Pilate's hints, because he only saw good in the people. He could not protect himself, because he did not know how, nor from whom.
This interpretation presumes that Bulgakov had his own vision of Tolstoy's idea of non-resistance to evil through violence, by giving this image of Yeshua.
It was noted many times in various studies that the novel abounds with Freemason symbols, often showing Freemason rituals which, as the theory implies, originate from the mystery plays of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and suggest that Bulgakov had knowledge of Freemasonry. Bulgakov may have obtained this knowledge from his father, Afanasiy Bulgakov, and his book Modern Freemasonry.
One historical event which Bulgakov attended had an important influence on the novel—the Spring Festival at Spaso House, Moscow (the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union) hosted by Ambassador William Bullitt on 24 April 1935. Bullitt instructed his staff to create an event that would surpass every other Embassy party in Moscow's history. The decorations included a forest of ten young birch trees in the chandelier room; a dining room table covered with Finnish tulips; a lawn made of chicory grown on wet felt; an aviary made from fishnet filled with pheasants, parakeets and one hundred zebra finches, on loan from the Moscow Zoo; and a menagerie of several mountain goats, a dozen white roosters and a baby bear.
The festival lasted until the early hours of the morning. The bear became drunk on champagne given to him by Karl Radek, and in the early morning hours the zebra finches escaped from the aviary and perched below the ceilings around the house.
Mikhail Bulgakov transformed the Spring Festival into The Spring Ball of the Full Moon, which became one of the most memorable episodes of the novel. On 29 October 2010, seventy-five years after the original ball, as a tribute to Ambassador Bullitt, Bulgakov and the Master and Margarita, John Beyrle, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, hosted an Enchanted Ball at Spaso House, recreating the spirit of the original ball.
An author who wrote a novel about the meeting of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth), which led to the ruination of his career by the Soviet literary bureacracy. He is "detained for questioning" for three months by the secret police because of a false report by an unscrupulous neighbor. Later, he is committed to a psychiatric clinic, where Bezdomny meets him. Little else is known about this character's past other than his belief that his life had no meaning until he met Margarita.
The Master's lover. Trapped in a passionless marriage, she devoted herself to the Master, whom she believes to be dead. She appears briefly in the first half of the novel, but is not referred to by name until the second half, when she serves as the hostess of Satan's Grand Ball on Walpurgis Night. Her character was mostly inspired by Bulgakov's last wife, whom he called "my Margarita." Some inspiration may also have come from Faust's Gretchen, whose real name is Margarita, as well as from Queen Marguerite de Valois. The latter is the main character of the opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer, which Bulgakov particularly enjoyed, and a novel by Alexandre Dumas, père, La Reine Margot. In these accounts, the queen is portrayed as daring and passionate.
Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz
Head of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT. He bears the last name (Берлиоз) of French composer Hector Berlioz, who wrote the opera The Damnation of Faust. Berlioz is particularly insistent that the Gospel Jesus was a completely mythical figure with zero historical basis, as opposed to a historic person whose biography was later "embellished" by Christians. Woland predicts that he will be decapitated by a young Soviet woman, which comes to pass when Berlioz slips on a puddle of sunflower oil and falls under a streetcar.
Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov (Bezdomny)
A young, aspiring poet. His pen name, Bezdomny (Иван Бездомный), means "homeless." Initially a willing tool of the MASSOLIT apparatus, he is transformed by the events of the novel. He witnesses Berlioz's death and nearly goes mad, but later meets The Master in asylum and decides to stop writing poetry once and for all.
Stephan Bogdanovich Likhodeyev
Director of the Variety Theatre and Berlioz's roommate, often called by the diminutive name Styopa. His surname is derived from the Russian word for "malfeasant". For his wicked deeds (he denounced at least five innocent people as spies so that he and Berlioz could grab their multi-bedroom apartment), he is magically teleported to Yalta, thereby freeing up the stolen apartment for Woland and his retinue.
Grigory Danilovich Rimsky
Treasurer of the Variety Theatre. On the night of Woland's performance, Rimsky is ambushed by Varenukha (who has been turned into a vampire by Woland's gang) and Hella. He barely escapes the encounter and flees to the train station to get out of the city.
Ivan Savelyevich Varenukha
House-manager of the Variety Theatre, whose surname refers to a traditional alcoholic fruit-punch resembling mulled wine. He is turned into a creature of darkness but is forgiven by the end of Walpurgis Night, restoring his humanity.
Margarita's young maid, later turned into a witch.
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoy
Chairman of the House Committee at 302B Sadovaya Street (the former residence of Berlioz). For his greed and trickery, he is deceived by Koroviev and later arrested.
Woland (Воланд, also spelled Voland) is Satan in the disguise of a "foreign professor" who is "in Moscow to present a performance of 'black magic' and then expose its machinations". This exposure never occurs; Woland instead exposes the greed and bourgeois behaviour of the spectators themselves.
An enormous demonic black cat (said to be as large as a hog) who speaks, walks on two legs, and can even transform to human shape for brief periods. He has a penchant for chess, vodka, pistols, and obnoxious sarcasm. He is evidently the least-respected member of Woland's team — even Margarita boldly takes to slapping Behemoth on the head after one of his many ill-timed jokes, without fear of retribution. In the last chapters it appears that Behemoth is a demon page-boy, the best clown in the world, who paid off his debt by serving Satan in his Moscow journey. His name (Бегемот) refers to both the Biblical monster and the Russian word for hippopotamus.
Also known as Fagotto (Фагот, meaning "bassoon" in Russian and other languages), he is described as an "ex-choirmaster", perhaps implying that he was once a member of an angelic choir. He is Woland's assistant and translator, and is capable of creating any illusion. Unlike Behemoth and Azazello, he does not use violence at any point. Like Behemoth, his true form is revealed at the end: a never-smiling dark knight.
Azazello (Азазелло) is a menacing, fanged and wall-eyed member of Woland's retinue, a messenger and assassin. His name may be a reference to Azazel, the fallen angel who taught people to make weapons and jewelry, and taught women the "sinful art" of painting their faces (mentioned in the apocryphalBook of Enoch 8:1–3). This connection could explain the magical cream he gives to Margarita. He also transforms into his real shape in the end: a pale-faced demon-assassin with black empty eyes.
Hella (Гелла) is a beautiful, redheaded succubus. She serves as maid to Woland and his retinue. Described as being "perfect, were it not for a purple scar on her neck" — the scar suggesting that she is also a vampiress.
The Roman Procurator of Judaea, a procurator in this case being a governor of a small province. The real Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judaea, not the procurator.
Jesus the Nazarene (Иешуа га-Ноцри), a wanderer or "mad philosopher", as Pilate calls him, whose name in Hebrew means either "Jesus who belongs to the Nazarene sect" or "Jesus who is from a place called Nazareth", though some commentators dispute the latter interpretation. The Master's version of Yeshua describes himself as an orphan, denies doing miracles, and apparently has only one full-time "Apostle", not twelve, among other departures from mainstream Christian tradition. The irony should not be overlooked that the Master's "secularized" Jesus proves to be more offensive to the atheist regime (including Berlioz) than a mystical, miracle-working Jesus would have been.
Levite, former tax collector, follower of Yeshua, and author of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Although introduced as a semi-fictionalized character in the Master's novel, towards the end of The Master and Margarita the "real" Matthew makes a personal appearance in Moscow to deliver a message from Yeshua to Woland.
High Priest of Judaea. Kaifa is interested in Yeshua's death in order to "protect" the status quo religion and his own status as the High Priest from the influence of Yeshua's preachings and followers.
A spy/informant hired by Kaifa to assist the authorities in finding and arresting Yeshua. In the Bible, Judas is a long-time member of Jesus's "inner circle" of Apostles, while Bulgakov's Judas meets Yeshua for the first time less than 48 hours before betraying him. He is paid off by Kaifa, but is later assassinated on Pilate's orders for his role in Yeshua's death.
Themes and imagery
Ultimately, the novel deals with the interplay of good and evil, innocence and guilt, courage and cowardice, exploring such issues as the responsibility towards truth when authority would deny it, and the freedom of the spirit in an unfree world. Love and sensuality are also dominant themes in the novel.
Margarita's devotional love for the Master leads her to leave her husband, but she emerges victorious. Her spiritual union with the Master is also a sexual one. The novel is a riot of sensual impressions, but the emptiness of sensual gratification without love is emphatically illustrated in the satirical passages. However, the stupidity of rejecting sensuality for the sake of empty respectability is also pilloried in the figure of Nikolai Ivanovich who becomes Natasha's hog-broomstick.
The interplay of fire, water, destruction, and other natural forces provides a constant accompaniment to the events of the novel, as do light and darkness, noise and silence, sun and moon, storms and tranquility, and other powerful polarities. There is a complex relationship between Jerusalem and Moscow throughout the novel, sometimes polyphony, sometimes counterpoint.
The novel is heavily influenced by Goethe's Faust, and its themes of cowardice, trust, intellectual curiosity, and redemption are prominent. Part of its literary brilliance lies in the different levels on which it can be read, as hilarious slapstick, deep philosophical allegory, and biting socio-political satire critical of not just the Soviet system but also the superficiality and vanity of modern life in general – jazz is a favourite target, ambivalent like so much else in the book in the fascination and revulsion with which it is presented. But the novel is also full of modern amenities like the model asylum, radio, street and shopping lights, cars, lorries, trams, and air travel. There is little evident nostalgia for any "good old days" – in fact, the only figure in the book to even mention Tsarist Russia is Satan himself. In another of its facets, perhaps showing a different aspect of Goethe's influence, the book is a Bildungsroman with Ivan Nikolayevich as its focus. Furthermore, there are strong elements of magic realism in the novel.
Ginsburg's translation was from a censored Soviet text and is therefore incomplete.
The early translation by Glenny runs more smoothly than that of the modern translations; some Russian-speaking readers consider it to be the only one creating the desired effect, though it may be somewhat at liberty with the text. The modern translators pay for their attempted closeness by losing idiomatic flow.
However, according to Kevin Moss, who has at least two published papers on the book in literary journals[verification needed], the early translations by Ginsburg and Glenny are quite hurried and lack much critical depth. As an example, he claims that the more idiomatic translations miss Bulgakov's "crucial" reference to the devil in Berlioz's thought:
"I ought to drop everything and run down to Kislovodsk." (Glenny)
"It's time to throw everything to the devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Burgin and Tiernan O'Connor)
"It's time to send it all to the devil and go to Kislovodsk." (Pevear and Volokhonsky)
"To hell with everything, it's time to take that Kislovodsk vacation." (Karpelson)
"It's time to let everything go to the devil and be off to Kislovodsk." (Aplin)
Several literary critics have hailed the Burgin/Tiernan O’Connor translation as the most accurate and complete English translation, particularly when read in tandem with the matching annotations by Bulgakov's biographer, Ellendea Proffer. However, these judgements predate the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky. Professor Jeffrey Grossman of the University of Virginia promotes the Karpelson translation in his courses on Faust because Karpelson's rendition balances readability and idiomatic accuracy, though he notes that the book must be specially ordered and requested through the translator, who recalled the book after its publication.
A memorable and much-quoted line in The Master and Margarita is: "manuscripts don't burn" (рукописи не горят). The Master is a writer who is plagued by both his own mental problems and the harsh criticism of most of the Soviet writers in the Moscow of the 1930s. He burns his treasured manuscript in an effort to cleanse his own mind from the troubles the work has brought him. Woland later gives the manuscript back to him saying, "Didn't you know that manuscripts don't burn?" There is an autobiographical element reflected in the Master's character here, as Bulgakov in fact burned an early copy of The Master and Margarita for much the same reasons.
Bulgakov museums in Moscow
In Moscow, two museums honor the memory of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita. Both are situated in Bulgakov's old apartment building on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street No. 10, in which parts of The Master and Margarita are set. Since the 1980s, the building has become a gathering spot for Bulgakov's fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups, and had various kinds of graffiti scrawled on the walls. The numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed in 2003. Previously the best drawings were kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around the best drawings.
There is a rivalry between the two museums, mainly maintained by the later established official Museum M.A. Bulgakov, which invariably presents itself as "the first and only Memorial Museum of Mikhail Bulgakov in Moscow".
The Bulgakov House (Музей – театр "Булгаковский Дом") is situated at the ground floor. This museum was established as a private initiative on May 15, 2004, and contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held, and excursions to Bulgakov's Moscow are organised, some of which are animated with living characters of The Master and Margarita. The Bulgakov House also runs the Theatre M.A. Bulgakov and the Café 302-bis.
In the same building as the Bulgakov House, in apartment number 50 on the fourth floor, is a second museum that keeps alive the memory of Bulgakov, the Museum M.A. Bulgakov (Музей М. А. Булгаков). This second museum is a government initiative founded on March 26, 2007. It contains personal belongings, photos, and several exhibitions related to Bulgakov's life and his different works. Various poetic and literary events are often held.
Allusions and references
Various authors and musicians have credited The Master and Margarita as inspiration for certain works.
Scottish band Franz Ferdinand's song "Love and Destroy" is based on Margarita in the novel.
Chicago-based punk rock band The Lawrence Arms referenced the novel several times on their album The Greatest Story Ever Told: it features a song called "Chapter 13: The Hero Appears", named after the same chapter in the book; names one of the band members (corresponding to guitarist Chris McCaughan) as Ivan Nikolayevich; features the lyric "text to burn" (in the song "A Wishful Puppeteer") in reference to the catch phrase "Manuscripts don't burn", see above; and also features the same quote from Faust in the liner notes.
In the movie My Dinner with Andre, Wallace Shawn describes an episode wherein he wore a cat's head as part of his costume in a stage production of The Master and Margarita.
Swedish stoner band Hong Faux uses imagery and references from the final chapters of the novel in the song "Sparrow Hills" from their debut album The crown that wears the head from 2012.
1972: the joint Italian-Yugoslavian production of Aleksandar Petrović's The Master and Margaret (Italian: Il Maestro e Margherita, Serbo-Croatian: Majstor i Margarita) was released. Based loosely on the book, the main discrepancy is that the Master in the movie has an actual name, Nikolaj Afanasijevic Maksudov, while in the original book the Master is persistently anonymous.
1994: A Russian movie of the novel was made by Yuri Kara. Although the cast included big names and talented actors (Anastasiya Vertinskaya as Margarita, Mikhail Ulyanov as Pilate, Nikolai Burlyayev as Yeshua, Valentin Gaft as Woland, Aleksandr Filippenko as Korovyev-Fagot) and its score was by the noted Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, the movie was never actually released on any media. The grandson of Bulgakov's third wife Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya claims, as a self-assigned heir, the rights on Bulgakov's literary inheritance and refused the release. Since 2006, however, copies of the movie have existed on DVD. Some excerpts of it can be viewed on the Master and Margarita website. The movie was finally released in cinemas in 2011.
1996: The Russian director Sergey Desnitsky and his wife, the actress Vera Desnitskaya, made the film Master i Margarita. They were disappointed by the reactions of the Russian media, and decided that the film would never be shown.
2005: The Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete made a short film of 26 minutes, entitled A Mester és Margarita. This film, with some famous Russian and Hungarian actors like Sergey Grekov, Grigory Lifanov, and Regina Myannik, was broadcast by MTV Premier on October 5, 2005.
2008: The Italian director Giovanni Brancali made the film Il Maestro e Margherita. The setting is not the city of Moscow in the 30s, but the contemporary Italian city of Florence.
2002: the French animators Clément Charmet and Elisabeth Klimoff made an animation of the first and third chapter of The Master and Margarita based on Jean-François Desserre's graphic novel.
2010: Israeli director Terentij Oslyabya made an animation filmThe master and Margarita, chapter 1. His movie literally follows every word of the novel.
2012: the Russian animation film maker Rinat Timerkaev starts working on a full length animated film Master i Margarita. On his blog, Timerkaev keeps his followers informed regularly of the progress of his plans.
1989: The Polish director Maciej Wojtyszko made Mistrz i Małgorzata, a TV miniseries of four episodes.
1989: the Russian theatre director Aleksandr Dzekun adaptated his theatre play Master i Margarita for television. As suggested by the subtitle, "Chapters from the novel,: the film doesn't cover the entire novel. Only 21 chapters of it were adapted in a miniseries.
1997: Russian comic strip author Rodion Tanaev adapted the book into a graphic novel .
2002: French comic strip author Jean-François Desserre adapted it into a graphic novel.
2005: Russian comic strip authors Askold Akishine and Misha Zaslavsky adapted it into a graphic novel.
2008: The book was adapted into a graphic novel by the London based comic strip authors Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal.
2013: The Austrian/French comic strip author Bettina Egger told the story of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita in the graphic novelMoscou endiablé, sur les traces de Maître et Marguerite. She interweaves the story of The Master and Margarita with the story of Mikhail Bulgakov's life and with her own exploration of the sources of the novel in Moscow.
Poster for a stage adaptation of The Master and Margarita in Perm, Russia
The Master and Margarita has been adapted on stage by more than 500 theatre companies all over the world.
1971: from 1971 to 1977, all theatre adaptations of The Master and Margarita were Polish. They could not be called The Master and Margarita though. Therefore they were staged as Black Magic and Its Exposure (Kraków, 1971), Black Magic (Katowice, 1973), Have you seen Pontius Pilate? (Wrocław, 1974), and Patients (Wroclaw, 1976).
1977: long a Soviet underground classic, Bulgakov's novel was finally brought to the Russian stage by the director Yuri Lyubimov at Moscow's Taganka Theatre.
1978: stage production directed by Romanian-born American director Andrei Şerban at the New York Public Theater, starring John Shea. This seems to be the version revived in 1993 (see below).
1980: stage production (Maestrul şi Margareta) directed by Romanian stage director Cătălina Buzoianu at The Little Theatre ("Teatrul Mic") in Bucharest, Romania. Cast: Ştefan Iordache as Master / Yeshua Ha-Notsri, Valeria Seciu as Margareta, Dan Condurache as Woland, Mitică Popescu as Koroviev, Gheorghe Visu as Ivan Bezdomny / Matthew Levi, Sorin Medeleni as Behemoth.
1982: stage production (Mästaren och Margarita) directed by Swedish stage director Peter Luckhaus at the National Theatre of Sweden Dramaten in Stockholm, Sweden – Cast: Rolf Skoglund as Master, Margaretha Byström as Margareta, Jan Blomberg as Woland, Ernst-Hugo Järegård as Berlioz/Stravinskij/Pontius Pilate, Stellan Skarsgård as Koroviev and Örjan Ramberg as Ivan/Levi Mattei.
1991: at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. UK Premiere. 3rd year professional diploma course. Director Helena Kaut-Howson. Cast includes: Katherine Kellgren, James Harper, Paul Cameron, Zen Gesner, Kirsten Clark, Polly Hayes, Abigail Hercules, Clive Darby, Daniel Philpot
1992: at the Lyric Hammersmith in June the Four Corners theatre company presented a distillation of the novel, translated by Michael Denny and adapted and directed for the stage by David Graham-Young (of Contemporary Stage). The production transferred to the Almeida Theatre in July 1992.
In 2000, the Israeli theater Gesher produced a musical, based on the Hebrew translation of the book by Ehud Manor. Adapted and directed by Yevgeny Arye and starring Haim Topol, Evgeny Gamburg, Israel "Sasha" Demidov and others, the show premiered on 26 December 2000. Combining special effects and a 23 musician orchestra, the show was hailed a success.
A German language stage adaptation of the novel, Der Meister und Margarita, directed by Frank Castorf premiered in the summer of 2002 at the Vienna Festival, Austria, and is discussed in the August/September 2002 (08|09 02) issue of the German theater magazine Theater heute.
2004: an adaptation of the novel by Edward Kemp and directed by Steven Pimlott was staged in July 2004 at the Chichester Festival Theatre, UK. The cast included Samuel West as the Master and Michael Feast as "the dazzling devil incarnate, Woland with a retinue that includes a man-size back cat Behemoth". The production included incidental music by one of Pimlott's regular composers, Jason Carr.
2004: the National Youth Theatre produced a new stage adaptation by David Rudkin at the Lyric Hammersmith London, directed by John Hoggarth. It featured a cast of 35 and ran from 23 August to 11 September. In 2005, Rudkin's adaptation received a further, stylistically different, production with a cast of thirteen, at Aberystwyth University Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Theatr y Castell, directed by David Ian Rabey.
In 2007, Helsinki, Finland, the group theatre Ryhmäteatteri stages a production named Saatana saapuu Moskovaan (Satan comes to Moscow), directed by Finnish director Esa Leskinen. Eleven actors played 26 separate roles in a successful theathrical performance of three hours during the season 25 September 2007 – 1.3.2008.
In 2007, Alim Kouliev in Hollywood with The Master Project production started rehearsals on stage with his own stage adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita. The premier was scheduled for 14 October 2007, but was postponed. Some excerpts and information of it can be viewed on the Master and Margarita website. The production is still in progress.
In 2011 award winning theatre company Complicite premiered its new adaptation, directed by Simon McBurney at Theatre Royal Plymouth. It toured to Luxembourg, London, Madrid, Vienna, Recklinghausen, Amsterdam. In July 2012 it tours to the Festival d'Avignon and the Grec Festival in Barcelona.
In 2003 the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, Russia, presented Master i Margarita, a new full-length ballet set to music by Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Hector Berlioz, Astor Piazzolla and other composers. Choreography and staging by David Avdysh, set design by Simon Pastukh (USA) and costume design by Galina Solovyova (USA). In 2007 the National Opera of Ukraine, Kiev, premiered David Avdysh's The Master and Margarita, a ballet-phantasmagoria in two acts.
2010: Synetic Theater presents the re-staging of The Master and Margarita directed by Paata Tsikirishvili and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. The show featured a cast of 16, including Paata Tsikirishvili as Master and Irina Tsikurishvili as Margarita and ran from 11 November to 12 December 2010 at the Lansburgh Theatre.
Hundreds of composers, bands, singers and songwriters were inspired by The Master and Margarita in their work. All together, they produced some 250 songs or musical pieces about it.
Many Russian bards, including Alexander Rosenbaum, have been inspired by the novel to write songs about it. They have based more than 200 songs on themes and characters from The Master and Margarita.
A dozen classical composers, including Dmitri Smirnov and Andrey Petrov, have been inspired by the novel to write symphonies and musical phantasies about it.
2011: Australian composer and domra (Russian mandolin) player Stephen Lalor presented his "Master & Margarita Suite" of instrumental pieces in concert at the Bulgakov Museum Moscow in July 2011, performed on the Russian instruments domra, cimbalom, bass balalaika, and bayan.
1972: 3-act chamber opera The Master and Margarita by Russian composer Sergei Slonimsky was completed, but not allowed to be performed or published; its concert premiere took place in Moscow on 20 May 1989, and the score was released in 1991. An abridged Western premiere took place in Hannover, in June 2000.
On 25 August 2006, Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that he aimed to turn the novel into "a stage musical or, more probably, an opera". However, in 2007 The Stage, an online theatre website, confirmed that he has abandoned his attempt to compose a musical version of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. "I’ve decided that it's undo-able. It's just too difficult for an audience to contemplate. It's a very complicated novel."
Five alternative composers and performers, including Simon Nabatov, have been inspired by the novel to present various adaptations.
In 2009, Portuguesenew media artists Video Jack premiered an audiovisual art performance inspired by the novel at Kiasma, Helsinki, as part of the PixelAche Festival. Since then, it has been shown in festivals in different countries, having won an honorable mention award at Future Places Festival, Porto. The project was released as a net art version later that year.
^MASSOLIT is a Soviet-style abbreviation for "Moscow Association of Writers" (Московская ассоциация литераторов), possibly interpretable as "Literature for the Masses"; one translation of the book mentions that it could be a play on words in Russian, translatable into English as something like "LOTSALIT")