Releasing the Sky

Introduction

The work concerns the true story of the dramatic flight of the
Soyuz 1 in 1967: a Russian spacecraft rushed into service before the safety checks were complete. The space race was in full swing and Russia’s President Brezhnev was determined to have a man
in space to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Twelve weeks earlier, three American astronauts had been killed in a training accident - the space race was now very serious and it was against this background that Soyuz 1
was launched.


The solo mission was commanded by Colonel Vladimir Komarov.
He was aware of the particular danger of this mission, as his
back-up pilot Yuri Gagarin (the First Man in Space) had tried to
stop the flight but had been stifled in his efforts by the KGB.


Things went wrong almost immediately, such that within hours Komarov’s wife was brought to Mission Control to speak privately with him. Then the Prime Minister, Kosygin, spoke with the cosmonaut and was reduced to tears by the pilots stoicism.


On his 19th orbit, Komarov managed to align his craft to the correct re-entry trajectory by putting the Soyuz 1 into a spin. At four miles out his main parachute failed to deploy, so, now traveling at over 400 miles an hour, he released the emergency parachute…


Act 1

Prologue 

The stage is unlit except for a single spotlight on Death as he outlines the history of events. To one side in semi-darkness, Commander Komarov is being suited-up, with the help of Gagarin, in preparation for his solo test-flight of the Soyuz 1. At the back, in darkness, the chorus (Valentina, Kosygin and the Technician) stand motionless. They are in Mission Control dressed as Technicians, but this is not apparent until Scene 2 - Baikonur Cosmodrome.


Baikonur Cosmodrome

On the first beat of music the entire stage is illuminated with bright “clinical” lights. The chorus become ‘alive’ and active, completing routine checks at Mission Control. They sing of the heroic nature of the mission and of how Russia is leading the race into space. Komarov is now wearing a light-blue space suit. He is standing at the bottom of the space craft and gradually climbs up and the enters the capsule.


Launch 

Komarov is in the cabin of Soyuz 1. He is in a gloomy mood, and expresses a resigned fatalism as a result of his belief that the mission is being launched too early for political reasons and with a disregard for his safety. As a loyal cosmonaut, however, he puts aside his discontent and conducts a professional dialogue with Yuri Gagarin at Mission Control. The chorus (acting technicians at Mission Control) sing the countdown as Gagarin conducts the launch sequence. The flight commences.


In Flight

The Launch is successful and is depicted through music alone. The scene ends with a broadcast of the achievement on the state radio, Tass.

 

In Earth’s Orbit (Part 1) 

Komarov has made several orbits. Death emerges from the darkness. He circles around Komarov as he sings (just as Komarov orbits around the world, thus in theory they are in concentric rings of orbit). Komarov is never physically aware of Death; he responds to him as if talking to himself. Death is thus an abstract: Komarov’s conscience; a prompt to his brooding thoughts brought on by his spectacular view on the world and the lonely contemplation that it inspires.

Komarov switches on his intercom to speak to Control. He suddenly realizes that one of the solar panels has failed to deploy and he is lacking the required power to complete his mission as planned; he is in serious trouble. His TV relay is no longer working so he switches on his short-wave radio...


 Act 2

Descent Sequence (Part 1) 

The listener is now transported forward to the final moments of the flight. The music and drama is pre-recorded and ‘broadcast’ to the audience via monitors and speakers as though watching it live on TV. 


Death’s Opening Speech 

Paralleling the opening of Act 1, Death once again sets the scene in a much shortened version of the Prologue. This is sung live, in real-time.

 

Descent Sequence (Part 2) 

The pre-recorded Descent Sequence concludes with Mission Control losing contact with the Soyuz 1. (The spacecraft went on to crash into the Russian Steppes at 400 miles per hour. Komarov was killed instantly.) 


In Earth’s Orbit (Part 2) 

The  audience is now transported back to the present and the drama continues from the end of the First Act. Now, however, the audience is aware that Komarov will not survive, creating an even more poignant scene between Komarov and Kosygin, and Komarov and Valentina. 


Komarov and Gagarin discuss the possibilities for re-entry, but Komarov soon realises there is only a slim chance of returning alive. He asks for his wife, Valentina.

 

Kosygin 

Komarov speaks to the Prime Minster Kosygin. He asks Kosygin to strive for peace and explains that from space, the world is a beautiful but fragile habitat. Komarov becomes aware that he is about to speak to his wife for the final time and muses over their life together. Komarov, with help from Gagarin and Mission Control, begins the descent.


Descent Sequence (Part 3) 

A brief episode from the descent sequence is heard (like a flash-back to the audience but a premonition of what is to come to Komarov). Again, this is broadcast to the audience, but this time with no visuals - just the music through speakers. 


Valentina

Komarov speaks to his wife Valentina. She is unaware of the danger but soon realizes that this is their farewell. She is initially angry with her husband for putting her through such a trauma, but is calmed when Komarov assures her that everything will be all right. They sing of what they will do when he returns, though both know that he is in serious danger. This is the way they cope with the impending tragedy. They part on this pretense, this necessary fiction, though each realizing that they have said good-bye.

© Alastair Stout 2017