Term 4 Meetings - Russian Opera

Here’s our (current) meetings plan

20 & 27 Oct. Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) Boris Godunov. 3 & 10 Nov. Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) Eugene Onegin  (Yevgeny Onegin) 17 & 24th Nov. Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades. 1st Dec. Aleksandr Borodin (1833–1887) Prince Igor.  8th Dec. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) for our full opera term finale:  Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.   First term next year (20th century opera) we’ll include Stravinsky Oedipus Rex; Prokofiev The Love for Three Oranges  and The Fiery Angel.

Is there a particularly RUSSIAN style of opera?

There are literally dozens of Russian operas since the first ones in 18th Century.  See a list of the most popular here. But are they particularly Russian? “There are examples of Russian operas written in French, English, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Japanese, or the multitude of languages of the nationalities that were part of the Empire and the Soviet Union…. Searching for its typical and characteristic features, Russian opera (and Russian music as a whole), has often been under strong foreign influence. Italian, French, and German operas have served as examples, even when composers sought to introduce special, national elements into their work. This dualism, to a greater or lesser degree, has persisted throughout the whole history of Russian opera.” (says Wikipedia) So what’s Russian about Russian opera?  We plan to answer this question through the works of six composers, from among Russia’s nineteenth and twentieth century greats and across Russian history. Clive Paget in Limelight gives a tantalising answer here, interviewing the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor David Robertson. It is Mikhail Glinka  (1804-1857) who is credited with first expressing a peculiarly Russian musical style, profoundly influencing subsequent composers. His Ruslan and Ludmila is based on the tale by Pushkin.

Opera and literature – the push of Pushkin

The great nineteenth century operas in Russia derived from great Russian writing, and the greatest writer was Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837 – yes he died young, in a duel). We’ll visit three operas from Pushkin’s writing, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (two versions, 1868–9 and 1871–2), then Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades. His Mozart and Salieri was the basis of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.

Russia in their time

1812 - French invasion 1861 - Emancipation of the serfs 1867 - Russia sells Alaska to USA 1905 - St Petersburg uprising 1916 - Murder of Rasputin 1917 - Russian Revolution, govern- ment falls, civil war, Lenin rules 1918 - Royal Family executed 1921 - famine 1922-1953 - Stalin rules 1941-43 - German invasion 1992 - Collapse of the Soviet Union, which none of our composers lived to see.