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Theatre / The Twelve Months

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The Twelve Months is a Russian fairytale play by Samuil Marshak, written in 1942-1943 and first performed in 1947. It still remains very popular in the Eastern Bloc, with three film adaptations and an opera by R. Shchedrin based on it.

Based on a folk tale from South-Eastern Europe, it has overall a standard Fairy Tale plot, taking place on New Year's Eve and the following day. The two major storylines center around a beautiful orphan girl, who is, naturally, abused by a Wicked Stepmother, and a Spoiled Brat of a queen whose decree to bring snowdrops to the palace in midwinter actually triggers most of the plot. The main character, on her stepmother's orders, goes for a hopeless search of snowdrops into the winter forest, but there she meets the sympathetic Twelve Months, who gather in the woods for their own New Year celebration.


This play and its adaptations include examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: The Queen's Professor often slips into speaking long and very scientific-sounding words and practically forgets about the point.
  • Adaptational Comic Relief: The Queen gets that in the opera – originally a Spoiled Brat but behaves better than in the play, also due to an Age Lift she is a Femme Fatale wannabe, and because of her being a grown woman her ridiculous decrees look especially idiotic.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Not outright villainy, but some negative character traits turn up. All months are perfectly good guys in the play (even the winter ones who seem to be harsh at first), but in the opera May and June each have a terribly boastful "I Am Great!" Song.
  • Adapted Out: In the opera, there are no Ambassadors, no Professor, no Chief Lady-in-Waiting, no Young Soldier, and no talking animals.
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  • Adorable Evil Minions: The wicked stepsister in the Soviet animated adaptation is very cute, especially compared to her more Obviously Evil and appropriately ugly mother. The difference is retained when they are turned into dogs.
  • Age Lift: The Queen, fourteen years old in the play, is a grown woman who spends time with lovers in the opera. A contrary example: the Stepdaughter, around the Queen's age in the play, is a small child in the 1956 animation.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance: The spring and summer months are young men dressed in green, the autumn months are middle-aged and dressed in yellow and brown, and the winter months are old and dressed in white fur coats.
  • Band of Brothers: The Months.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Not once is the word "love" used in the play.
  • Damsel in Distress: The Stepdaughter since the first scene and almost to the last.
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  • Deadpan Snarker: The Queen of all people has moments of it sometimes.
    Chief Lady-in-Waiting: Nature makes me mad!
    The Queen: I knew it was in your nature. I’m very sorry for you, you poor lady.
    Chief Lady-in-Waiting: No, Your Majesty, I simply meant to say I madly love nature.
    The Queen: It seems, though, it doesn’t love you so much. Your nose has all gone blue.
  • Demoted to Extra and Ascended Extra: In the play, The Patriarch of the Twelve Months is January, while in the opera it's December, and January has barely several lines. In the play, December only played an essential part in the first scenes.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": No names are present at all, with only the Twelve Months an exception in a sense. In the Russian-Japanese version, the Stepdaughter gets a name, Anna (as the version added several episodes about the girl's life with her Stepmother and Stepsister, it was probably done to avoid their constant Hey, You!).
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Dealt with in various ways in the opera.
    • Subverted with most of the deep-voiced characters. The overall good-natured Chancellor of the Queen is a baritone, December is a bass-baritone, February, July, as well as a kind Woodcutter are basses, and January and November are mezzos.
    • The Queen, a mezzo, is a borderline example.
    • The decidedly evil Stepmother is a mezzo.
    • However, the Stepsister is a coloratura soprano.
  • Flowers of Romance: The anime version and the feature version both depict April handing the first snowdrop to the girl.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Very much so, especially if you are in her inner circle. Since most of the actual ruling is done by the ministers, the smallfolk isn't much bothered. The Stepdaughter doesn't even know much about the Queen until the Old Soldier tells her.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The Queen in the end, definitely. Maybe, at least in the main heroine's opinion, the Stepmother and Stepsister.
  • "I Am" Song: In the opera, the months all have that.
  • Impossible Task: First the Queen demanding fresh spring flowers in midwinter, next the stepmother sending the heroine into the night to actually gather these flowers.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The Stepdaughter, as expected.
  • Lighter and Softer: The opera, especially since almost the whole Queen subplot is cut out.
  • Love Before First Sight: If you remember that the girl had always loved the month of April in general, and the feelings bloomed very quickly when she met his personification.
  • Relationship Compression: The opera. In the first act, there's nothing at all to indicate April's feelings for the girl (except that he calls her beautiful, but that's when all the months praise her for some thing or other), or hers for him – the whole plan of helping the girl comes from December, and the heroine lies unconscious in the snow for most of the time. In the second act, April sings her a rushed sort-of serenade and the next thing we know, she's swooning over his ring.
  • Rescue Romance: Of all the flowers the Queen could have wished for, she picked the one that blossoms in April. With the consequences that followed.
  • Same Character, but Different: January, March, June, September and November are female in the opera (although December still addresses the whole lot as brothers).
  • Setting Update: The opera is set in an Ambiguous Time Period, a cross between modern times and the eighteenth century.
  • Shipper on Deck: It is quickly shown that several of the Months, January and March most prominently, actively ship April and the girl. Even more so in the feature film, where it’s made clear from their gestures and facial expressions.
    Girl (bows to January): Thank you!
    January (with a chuckle and a twinkle, ushering April forward): Don’t bow to me, but to my younger brother, the month of April. It was him who asked us to help you, and who brought the snowdrops from under the ground.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The Stepmother and Stepsister don't get turned into dogs in the opera.
  • With This Ring: A lot of the Stepdaughter's trouble comes from the fact that a) the Stepsister has stolen her magical engagement ring and b) she must never tell anyone who gave it to her.

Alternative Title(s): Twelve Months


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