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Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. Opera in seven scenes. 1869.
Revised version in four acts and a prologue. 1872, further rev. 1873.
Libretto by the composer, after Pushkin’s tragedy, with historical information drawn from the work of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Karamzin.
First performance, of the revised version, at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, on 8th February 1874.
Boris Godunov bass or baritone
Fyodor, his son mezzo-soprano
Xenia, his daughter soprano
Her old wet-nurse mezzo-soprano
Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shouysky tenor
Andrey Shchelkalov, clerk to the Duma baritone
Pimen, monk and chronicler bass
Pretender, the false Dmitry, Grigory tenor
Marina Mniszek, a Polish princess mezzo-soprano
Rangoni, a Jesuit bass
Varlaam, a vagabond bass
Missail, a vagabond tenor
Hostess of the inn mezzo-soprano
Nikitich, a constable bass
Yurodiviy, the simpleton (Holy Fool) tenor
Synopsis: Boris Godunov has had the rightful heir to the empire, Dmitry, murdered and now is proclaimed Tsar. Time passes and Russia is in turmoil, in spite of the Tsar’s efforts to rule well. In a monastery cell the monk Pimen, who has been writing a history of the times, tells his young novice Grigory of the events leading to the triumph of Boris. Grigory, now inspired to seek justice and identifying himself with the murdered prince, is sought by the authorities, but seeks to cast suspicion on the disreputable wandering monk Varlaam. Boris Godunov, in the Kremlin palace, suffers torments of remorse, as revolt threatens from Poland. There the pretender Dmitry declares his love for Marina Mniszek, and they are urged by the Jesuit Rangoni to march on Moscow, leading an army of Polish nobles. In the Kremlin Boris is haunted by his fears, more so when he learns of miracles worked at the grave of Dmitry, the boy whose murder had brought him the throne. As monks chant their prayers and the council of boyars gather round him, Boris dies. In a final scene the pretender Dmitry leads his army to victory, while the Simpleton laments the fate of Russia.
The two versions of Boris Godunov differ in many respects. In addition to the revision, the work was re-scored by Rimsky-Korsakov for performance in 1896. The first version ends with the death of Boris, while the Polish scenes and the final success of the false Dmitry belong to the later version, although in this the two scenes of the fourth act are often reversed, to allow the opera still to close with the death of Boris. The opera provides a major role in that of Boris Godunov, famously taken by singers such as Chaliapin, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Boris Christoff. In whatever version it is a monumental element in Russian operatic
Swan Lake seen by Rudolf Nureyev
“To me, Swan Lake is one long daydream of prince Siegfried. Reared on romantic reading, his desire for infinity has been fired and he refuses the reality of the power and the marriage forced on him by his tutor and his mother.
To escape from the dreary destiny that is being prepared for him, he brings the vision of the lake, this “elsewhere” for which he yearns, into his life. An idealized love is born in his mind, along with the prohibition that it represents. (The white swan is the untouchable woman, the black swan the reverse mirror image, just as the evil Rothbart is a corrupt substitute for Wolfgang, the tutor).
And so when the dream fades away, the sanity of the prince does not know how to survive.”
NUREYEV’S SWAN LAKE
Already omnipresent in the world of ballet as an element for transformation, for purification and for regeneration, the theme of water could but attract Nureyev, the choreographer, whose heroes and heroines try to get away from their situation, their entourage, their closed and stifling worlds, and escape to the often imaginary “elsewhere”.
Swan Lake, based on an imaginary theme with this love of the prince for a young girl/bird who is a poetic and unreal creature, is servant to numerous symbolic and psychological interpretations.
In the Petipa/Ivanov version handed down by Russian tradition, the choreographic and dramatic interest is centred on the ballerina who plays and dances a dual role; Odette, white swan-lyrical showcase, and Odile, black swan-dangerous seductress, the prince being reduced to become the instrument of fate. Nureyev completely reversed the situation.
Nureyev was invited during his first season at the London Royal Ballet to dance the role of Siegfried in the June 1962 production rearranged by Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton. Here it was that, at the end of Act I, he took the liberty of introducing a new variation, choreographed around the andante sostenuto which precedes the pas de trois in the score and which used to be habitually cut. This melancholic, dreamy solo expressing Siegfried’s yearning for an ideal world was considered so good that the Royal Ballet has kept it in the various versions of Swan Lake which have since followed.
In October 1964, when Nureyev undertook his own version of the complete work at the Vienna Opera House, he choreographically fleshed out the role of the Prince, and above all, developed his psychology, using fantasies which lead him to ruin as he runs frantically after the illusion of a woman/swan.
“The charismatic dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, created a Swan Lake, insofar as choreography, which, contrary to previous productions, made the Prince the principal character in the dramatic action: first of all sad, prey to “melancholy”, then in love, finally deceived and ending up destroyed. In fact, the outcome could only be tragic with Rothbart setting a dreadful storm in motion which swallowed Siegfried up in the waves.
In the performance of his Swan Lake at the Paris Opera in December 1984, Rudolf Nureyev went even further…
Below is a synopsis based on the 1895 libretto. Swan Lake is generally presented in either four Acts, four Scenes (primarily outside Russia and Eastern Europe) or three Acts, four Scenes (primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe). Some productions in the West include a prologue that shows the actual transformation by which Princess Odette is first turned into a swan. The biggest difference of productions all over the world is that the ending varies from romantic to tragic.
A magnificent park before a palace.
[Scène: Allegro giusto] Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with his tutor, friends and peasants [Waltz]. The revelries are interrupted by Siegfried’s mother, the Queen [Scène: Allegro moderato], who is concerned about her son’s carefree lifestyle. She tells him that he must choose a bride at the royal ball the following evening. Siegfried is upset that he cannot marry for love. His friend Benno and the tutor try to lift his troubled mood. As evening falls [Sujet], Benno sees a flock of swans flying overhead and suggests they go on a hunt [Finale I]. Siegfried and his friends take their crossbows and set off in pursuit of the swans.
A lakeside clearing in a forest by the ruins of a chapel. A moonlit night.
Siegfried has become separated from his friends. He arrives at the lakeside clearing, just as a flock of swans land nearby [Scène. Moderato]. He aims his crossbow at the swans [Scène. Allegro moderato-], but freezes when one of them transforms into a beautiful maiden, Odette [Scène. -Moderato]. At first, she is terrified of Siegfried. When he promises not to harm her, she tells him that she is the Swan Queen Odette. She and her companions are victims of a terrible spell cast by the evil owl-like sorcerer Von Rothbart. By day they are turned into swans and only at night, by the side of the enchanted lake – created from the tears of Odette’s mother – do they return to human form. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. Von Rothbart suddenly appears [Scène. -Allegro vivo]. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes – if Von Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.
As Von Rothbart disappears, the swan maidens fill the clearing [Scène: Allegro, Moderato assai quasi andante]. Siegfried breaks his crossbow, and sets about winning Odette’s trust as the two fall in love. But as dawn arrives, the evil spell draws Odette and her companions back to the lake and they are turned into swans again.
An opulent hall in the palace.
Guests arrive at the palace for a costume ball. Six princesses are presented to the prince [Entrance of the Guests and Waltz], one of whom his mother hopes he will choose as his bride. Then Von Rothbart arrives in disguise [Scène: Allegro, Allegro giusto] with his enchantress daughter, Odile, transformed so that she appears identical to Odette in all respects. Though the princesses try to attract the prince with their dances [Pas de six], Siegfried, mistaking Odile for Odette, has eyes only for her and dances with Odile. [Scène: Allegro, Tempo di valse, Allegro vivo] Odette appears as a vision and vainly tries to warn Siegfried that he is being deceived. But Siegfried remains oblivious and proclaims to the court that he intends to make Odile his wife. Von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of Odette and he realises his mistake. Grief-stricken, Siegfried hurries back to the lake.
By the lakeside.
Odette is distraught at Siegfried’s betrayal. The swan-maidens try to comfort her, but she is resigned to death. Siegfried returns to the lake and finds Odette. He makes a passionate apology. She forgives him and the pair reaffirm their love. Von Rothbart appears and insists that Siegfried fulfill his pledge to marry Odile, after which Odette will be transformed into a swan forever. Siegfried chooses to die alongside Odette and they leap into the lake. This breaks Von Rothbart’s spell over the swan maidens, causing him to lose his power over them and he dies. In an apotheosis, the swan maidens watch as Siegfried and Odette ascend into the Heavens together, forever united in love.
Andrea Chénier offers a fictional account of the French poet, who took part in the French Revolution and was later executed. It is an example of Italian verismo, operatic realism, and contains musical allusions to the ancien régime in the first act and to music associated with the revolution in acts. Particularly well known are Chénier’s two arias, the so-called Improvviso di Chénier, his revolutionary song in the first act, and his Come un bel dì di Maggio (As a fine day in May), a poem written in prison. When Madeleine encounters Gérard in the third act her La mamma morta (Mother dead) starts her account of her family’s suffering in the revolution.
The first act is set in pre-revolutionary France, where Charles Gérard, a servant to the de Coigny family, reveals his contempt for his employers and his love for their daughter. The poet André Chénier is present at a party at the Château Coigny and is induced to recite, at the request of Madeleine de Coigny, but in doing so criticises the injustices of inequality he sees around him. The second act takes place after the revolution has started. Chénier sits in a café, with the servant Bersi at another table, both observed with suspicion by the informer Incroyable. Roucher enters with a passport for Chénier, urging him to escape, but he is both confident and, at the same time, intrigued by letters he has received from a woman, whom he now seeks. She is revealed as Madeleine, also the object of the now revolutionary Gérard’s search. Gérard and Chénier meet and fight. The former falling wounded warns Chénier of his danger but denies knowledge of his assailant when questioned by the police, summoned by Incroyable. Chénier is to be arraigned, and Gérard is persuaded to sign the indictment. Madeleine promises her love to Gérard, if he will intercede for Chénier with the tribunal. He does so, but in vain, and Chénier is condemned to death, joined on the scaffold by Madeleine, who has changed places with a woman prisoner.
Medea in Corinto (Medea in Corinth) is an opera in Italian by the composer Simon Mayr. It takes the form of a melodramma tragico in two acts. The libretto, by Felice Romani, is based on the Greek myth of Medea and the plays on the theme by Euripides and Pierre Corneille. The same subject had formed the basis for Luigi Cherubini’s famous opera Médée (1797) which may have had an influence on Mayr’s work. Medea in Corinto was first performed at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples on 28 November 1813 and was Mayr’s greatest theatrical success.
Jason (Giasone) has rejected his former wife, Medea, in favour of Creusa, daughter of King Creon (Creonte) of Corinth. Creon banishes Medea from the city and she swears revenge. Meanwhile, King Aegeus (Egeo) of Athens arrives in Corinth. He had been promised Creusa as his bride. Finding he has been rejected, he makes a pact with Medea. As Jason and Creusa are being married in the temple, Medea bursts in with Aegeus’s soldiers and a fight breaks out as they attempt to carry off the bride and bridegroom.
Creon’s men have defeated and captured Medea and Aegeus. In prison, Medea uses her magic powers to summon up demons from the underworld. She kills Creusa with a poisoned robe then stabs her own – and Jason’s – children to death, before making her escape in a chariot pulled by flying dragons. In despair, Jason attempts suicide in vain.
Barbiere di Siviglia, Il (The Barber of Seville) (Giovanni Paisiello)
Giovanni Paisiello. Dramma giocoso in four acts. 1782.
Libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, after Le Barbier de Séville by Beaumarchais.
First performance at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, on 26th September 1782.
Paisiello’s opera, which enjoyed enormous contemporary success, largely follows the play by Beaumarchais, in which the young Count Almaviva, helped by the barber Figaro, succeeds in outwitting Doctor Bartolo, tutor to Rosina, the object of the Count’s attentions, and whom he succeeds in winning. In Paisiello Bartolo shares the main attention with Rosina in an opera which represents the height of contemporary achievement in 1782, a generation before Rossini’s treatment of the same subject.
Paisiello dedicated his opera to Catherine II of Russia. It was mounted in Vienna in 1783 and won great popularity there and elsewhere. Rossini, in his opera of 1816 on the same subject, its libretto possibly also indebted to Petrosellini’s libretto, did his best to avoid comparison with his predecessor. In this he was initially unsuccessful.
Il trovatore followed close upon the success of Verdi’s Rigoletto and was to be followed by La traviata (The Fallen Woman). It retains its place as a major work in Italian opera repertoire, in spite of the improbabilities of a plot in which Azucena might seem to have suffered a confusion of mind worthy of Miss Prism. This lack of verisimilitude is forgotten in the dramatic strength of the music. Ferrando’s narrative, Di due figli vivea padre felice (There lived once a happy father of two boys), sets the opening. The second scene allows Leonora her Tacea la notte placida (Silent was the night), as she tells Ines of when she first heard Manrico’s serenade, Deserto sulla terra (Deserted on the earth). The second act starts with the famous Anvil Chorus, Vedi! Le fosche notturne (See! The darkness of night goes), as the gypsies in their encampment start their day, a chorus that has its third part parallel in the song of the Count’s soldiers, Or co’ dadi (Now we gamble). The second act also brings Azucena’s powerful account of her mother’s death, Stride la vampa (The fire roars). She has her moments again when she is interrogated by the Count, as his prisoner, Giorni poveri vivea (There in poverty) and Deh! Rallentate o barbari (Ah! Cruel men, loosen these chains), and in her final scene with Manrico. For Leonora there is the moving D’amor sull’ali rosee (Love, fly on rosy wings), as she hears the Miserere from within the castle, where Manrico is held prisoner, and her final scene with Manrico.ACT I. The Duel
Scene 1. Aragon: a hall in the palace of Aliaferia, in Saragossa
The followers of the Count di Luna keep watch as he makes his nightly vigil under the windows of Leonora, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, whom he loves.
Ferrando, the captain of the guard, keeps his men awake by narrating a terrible happening of 15 years ago: an old woman, accused of casting the evil eye over the count’s brother, was burnt at the stake. The subsequent disappearance of the boy, followed by the discovery of a child’s skeleton in the ashes, led to the conclusion that the woman’s daughter, who was present at the burning, had thrown him into the flames to avenge her mother. She was never found, but Ferrando swears that he would recognise her. As he relates how the witch has continued to haunt the castle, the soldiers are seized with superstitious terror.
Scene 2. The palace gardens
Leonora loves not the count, but the troubador Manrico. As she waits for him she tells her companion Ines how she first saw him at a tourney and loved him. She rejects Ines’ warning of the dangers of her infatuation with the stranger. They retire and the count appears, his love-lorn musings interrupted by the sounds of Manrico’s lute and serenade. In the dark Leonora mistakenly embraces the count, Manrico reproaches her and she explains the error.
The count confronts Manrico, not only as his rival, but as a follower of the rebellious Count of Urgel; and they rush off to fight a duel.
ACT II. The Gipsy
Scene 1. A gipsy encampment in Biscay
As the gipsies sing and work at their anvils, Azucena broods on the fate of her mother, burned as a witch.
She explains the circumstances to Manrico (who had left her at an early age to pursue his ambitions and was thus ignorant of the story), going on to tell him how she had intended to avenge her mother by burning the count’s son, but had become confused and killed her own child instead. In answer to Manrico’s puzzled question about his identity, she assures him that he is indeed her own son – the horrible memory caused her mind to wander and she did not know what she was saying. She reminds him that she has always loved him and has just nursed him back to health after he was wounded in a battle against the count’s forces. The battle had taken place just after the duel in which Manrico had spared the count’s life, as a voice from heaven seemed to command him. Azucena urges him to strike without hesitation if the occasion arises again.
A message is brought that Leonora, believing Manrico dead, is about to enter a convent. Brushing aside Azucena’s pleas that he is too weak to travel, he rushes off to prevent Leonora from taking the veil.
Scene 2. Outside the convent
The count has come to abduct Leonora, but Manrico’s followers defeat his and rescue her.
ACT III. The Gipsy’s Son
Scene 1. Outside the fortress of Castellor
As the count lays siege to the fortress, which is under Manrico’s command, Azucena is found wandering near the camp and brought to the count, accused of spying. Ferrando recognises her as the woman responsible for the death of the count’s brother and in terror she cries to Manrico to save her. Realising that she is Manrico’s mother, in addition to her crime, the count prepares to execute her.
Scene 2. Inside the fortress
Manrico and Leonora are preparing for their wedding when Ruiz brings the news that Azucena is about to be burnt at the stake. Manrico rushes off to rescue her, explaining to Leonora that his mother’s claims outweigh hers.
ACT IV. The Execution
Scene 1. The Aliaferia palace
Ruiz brings Leonora to the tower where Manrico is imprisoned, having been captured in his vain attempt to save Azucena. Monks intone the miserere as Manrico laments that death is slow in coming. Leonora pleads with the count for Manrico’s life, offering herself in exchange. As he joyfully accepts her bargain, she takes poison, intending to leave him only her dead body.
Scene 2. Inside the dungeon
Manrico soothes Azucena, who is terrified at the idea of fire, and she falls asleep comforted by the idea that they will soon return to their mountain home.
When Leonora tells Manrico that he is free, he suspects the price she has paid and upbraids her, realising only as she collapses at his feet, that she is dying to save him. The count appears as she breathes her last, and realising that he has been deceived, orders Manrico’s immediate execution. Azucena wakes too late to prevent this, but is able to avenge her mother by telling the horrified count with her dying breath that he has just killed his brother.
The first version of “Dardanus”, which was performed at the end of 1739, was composed apparently in only six months and marks a particularly productive phase in Rameau’s career. In a period of only six years five of his major works were performed at the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris.
The theme is taken from Greek mythology: The opera describes the war between Teucer (the future founder of Troy), his Phrygian people and the army of Dardanus.
Dardanus is a tragédie lyrique in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The French libretto was by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère.
It was first performed by the Académie de musique at its theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris on 19 November 1739. It received 26 performances, mainly because of the support from Rameau’s followers in the dispute between the styles of Rameau and Lully.
Critics accused Rameau’s original opera of lacking a coherent plot. The inclusion of the sea monster also violated the French operatic convention of having a clear purpose for encounters with supernatural beings.
In 1744 (with help from Simon-Joseph Pellegrin), and again in 1760, Dardanus was revised extensively in an attempt to correct its shortcomings. Large portions of the score were sacrificed in favour of plot but some scenes as arresting as the “Prison scene” (1744) were added in the process.
Dardanus was produced three times in the 20th century: in 1907 at the Opéra de Dijon, in 1979 at the Opéra de Paris, and finally in 1998, in a concert version, at the time of a recording (below) by Marc Minkowski. Another recent production is by Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux (2015)
The American professional premiere, by the Wolf Trap Opera Company directed by Chuck Hudson, was given in July 2003 at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in suburban Virginia. The opera was also produced in Sydney in November-December 2005, by Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, The Royal Academy of Music also staged Dardanus in London in 2006. In France it was revived again in October-November 2009, at Lille, Caen and Dijon, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm and staged by Claude Buchvald.
The fifth of Rameau’s operas, Dardanus represents a musical if not a dramatic triumph, its libretto later simplified and made marginally more credible. The concert suite from the opera may be heard in the concert hall.
The Pleasures, invited by Venus to her son Cupid’s palace, send them all to sleep, to be aroused by the advent of Jealousy. In the first act Iphise is in love with Dardanus, enemy of her father Teucer, who proposes her marriage to Antenor. Dardanus, in love with Iphise, is warned by the magician Ismenor, whose form he now assumes, advising Antenor and learning, before he reveals his true identity, of Iphise’s love for him. News comes to Iphise of the capture of Dardanus, his imprisonment provoking divine anger and the intervention of Neptune. Dreams divert Dardanus and urge him to fight the sea-monster, which he does, rescuing Antenor, who gives him his sword in gratitude. Dardanus enters Teucer’s palace and is welcomed as the killer of the monster and consequent husband of Iphise.