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Alexander Borodin

Prince Igor

Alexander Borodin - Prince Igor by Yury Lyubimov

Let us start, for once, by giving credit to a critic. Vladimir Vasilevich Stassov was the monstrously learned archaeologist, librarian, and music critic who constituted an intimate adjunct to the Mighty Five of Russia—Balakirev, Cui, Borodin, Moussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakoff. Among the many services he performed for these composers (including writing biographies of all but Balakirev) was the suggestion to Borodin of Prince Igor as the subject for an opera. Not only did he suggest it, he also wrote out a synopsis for the libretto.

The source of the story is a fourteenth-century prose poem entitled Song of the Army of Prince Igor, which deals with a twelfth-century military expedition undertaken against the Tartars. To understand it properly—particularly the prologue and Act I—one should know that Novgorod was, at that time, a cross between a democracy and a constitutional monarchy. That is, the princes were elected, their chief function was to act as military leaders, and they derived their authority and subsidies from their subjects, not from the nobility.

But it was not so much the political aspects of the story that attracted Borodin as it was the chance to write music in contrasting colors—Russian and Tartar. And how well he took advantage of it!

Borodin (1834-1887) was a chemist—and a distinguished one—by profession, a composer only by avocation. It may have been for this reason that, while Stassov came up with his notable suggestion as early as 1869, the score was still uncompleted when Borodin died of a heart attack, eighteen years later, during a costume party he was giving in his own home. Rimsky-Korsakoff and Glazounov, with help from Liadov, orchestrated more than half the opera and completed the composition of several of the scenes that remained unfinished. But these composers often worked so closely with each other (they had shared assignments for different parts of the same string quartet, the same ballet) that it is almost impossible to detect where one hand leaves off and the next begins. Stassov left an account of who did what, but so well did they subject their individualities that it is a matter of interest only to the historian.




(Knyaz Igor)

Opera in prologue and four acts by Alexandre Porfyrevich Borodin, with libretto in Russian by Vladimir Vasilevich Stassov, based on a medieval prose poem  Song of the Army of Prince Igor


Prince Igor

Yaroslavna, his wife

Vladimir, his son

Prince Galitzky, her brother 
Skoula, gudor player

Eroshka, gudor player
Kotchak, Polovtsian khan

Gzak, Polovtsian khan

Kontchakovna, Kontchak’s daughter
Ovlour, a Polovtsian renegade
Yaroslavna’s nurse

Time: 1185

Places:  Poutivle and the camp of the Polovtsians

First performance at St. Petersburg, November 4, 1890


Igor, Prince of Seversk:

Baritone. Husband of Yaroslavna, father of Vladimir. With his son, he leads his army to fight the Polovtsi, a Tartar tribe, and is captured by their leader, Khan Kontchak. For his entertainment, the Polovtsian Dances are performed by Kontchak's slaves. He escapes to save his city and rejoin his wife. Created (1890) by Ivan Alexandrovich Mel'nikov.

Prince Igor Svyatoslavich the Brave (Novhorod-Siverskyi, April 3/10, 1151 – the spring of 1201 / December 29, 1202) was a Rus’ prince (a member of the Rurik dynasty). His baptismal name was Yury. Igor was prince of Putivl (1164–1180), of Novgorod-Seversk (1180–1198), and of Chernigov (1198–1201/1202).

Chronicle evidence reveals that he had an enviably successful military career; he led many campaigns against the Cumans from among which the chronicles report only one defeat. But it was his defeat at the river Kayala (the exact location of which has never been definitively established) that has become immortalized through its literary rendering in “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign”, the most celebrated epic of Rus.


Soprano. Wife of Prince Igor and sister of Prince Galitzky. She awaits her husband's return from leading his army against the Polovtsi. Aria: Akh, plachu ya, gorka plachu ya (‘I shed tears, shed bitter tears’). Created (1890) by Olga Olghina.


Vladimir (Borodin: Prince Igor). Ten. Son of Prince Igor. Goes with his father to fight the Polovtsi and falls in love with Kontchakovna, the daughter of their leader. Created (1890) by Grigorii Ugrinovich.

Vladimir III Igorevich (October 8, 1170 – Putivl, 1211 or after) was a Rus' prince (a member of the Rurik dynasty). He was the son of Igor Svyatoslavich and was with him during his campaign against the Cumans on 13 April 1185, immortalized in the epic The Tale of Igor's Campaign; he participated in the first battle, wherein he set off ahead of the main group along with Svyatoslav Olgovich of Rylsk and defeated the Cuman forces. However, he was captured in the second battle by Khans Gzak and Konchak. 

Prince Galitsky:

Bass. Brother of Yaroslavna, Prince Igor's wife. He is an extravagant and dissolute man. When Igor goes with his son to fight the Polovtsi, he leaves Galitsky to rule the people and take care of Yaroslavna. Created (1890) by Fyodor Stravinsky (father of the composer Igor Stravinsky).

Bass. Leader of the Polovtsi, father of Kontchakovna. He captures Prince Igor and his son (who falls in love with the Khan's daughter). Orders his slaves to dance the Polovtsian Dances to entertain his prisoners. Has a sneaking admiration for Igor, whom he recognizes as a good leader of his people. Created (1890) by Mikhail Mikhaylovich Koryakin.


Mezzo-coprano. Daughter of the Polovtsian leader Khan Kontchak. She falls in love with Vladimir, the captured son of Prince Igor. Created (1890) by Mariya Slavina.



After an overture based on a number of the themes to be heard later, the curtain rises on a square in the city of Poutivle, and the chorus sings in praise of the military leader, Prince Igor, who has just left the cathedral preparatory to leading an expedition against the Tartars. Suddenly an eclipse of the sun frightens everyone, and the boyars attempt to dissuade Igor from embarking on the expedition: it is a bad portent, they say. Igor, however, refuses to be moved, and orders his army on its way. All the soldiers go, excepting a couple of rascals named Skoula and Eroshka—players on an ancient stringed instrument called the gudok—of whom we shall hear more later.

Even Igor's beloved wife, Yaroslavna, cannot persuade him to remain home. He commends her to the care of her brother, Prince Galitzky, who is to rule the city in Igor's absence. Galitzky thanks his brother-in-law; an old priest offers a blessing; Igor and his son Vladimir join the army; and the chorus again chants the praises of their leader.

 Alexander Borodin - Prince Igor  (Part 1)
From the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia (1998)
Kirov Opera Company & Kirov Ballet
Valery Gergiev - conductor
Nikolai Putilin - Igor Sviatoslavich, Prince of Severesk (Prince Igor)
Galina Gorchakova - Yaroslavna (his second wife)
Jevgenij Akimov - Vladimir Igorievich (his son by his first marriage)
Sergei Aleksashkin - Vladimir Yaroslavich
Nikolai Gassiev & Grigory Karasev - Skula & Yeroshka (two gudlock players)
Vladimir Vaneev - Konchak (Polovtsian Khan)
Olga Borodina - Konchakovna (daugther of Khan Konchak)
Valery Lebed - Ovlur (a Christian Polovtsian)
Tatiana Pavlovskaya - A Polovtsian Maiden

1:50 Overture 
12:01 Prologue
32:39 Act I


Scene1  The true character of Galitzky, which had before been suggested only by the nature of the music assigned him, now comes out clearly. At his court he has won over the mob by giving them various luxuries and entertainment; he freely admits that he loves a life of ease himself; and more secretly he hopes that he may replace Igor on the throne. As for Yaroslavna—let her get herself to a nunnery.

The nature of his administration of justice is revealed when a couple of frightened girls ask his protection against his own men, who have abducted a third girl. Galitzky simply tells them that the girl is better off where she is now. Finally, when he has left the stage for some private carousing, the crowd opens a barrel of wine and thoroughly enjoys itself in a lively chorus. Skoula and Eroshka, who have been prominent in the anti-Igor demonstrating earlier, don't stint themselves with the wine, and they are left behind, drunk.

Scene 2 In her room Yaroslavna bewails the absence of her husband and son; but her spirit is roused when the two girls who have been so badly treated in the previous scene come to her for protection. It seems that Galitzky himself has violated their friend, and when he comes in, Yaroslavna threatens to have him punished on Prince Igor’s return. Galitzky only laughs at his sister, but she is more than a match for this bluffer. Before she is through with him, he has promised to bring the girl back to her home. He then bows himself out of the room and the opera—a good loss in terms of the company we are expected to keep, but a bad one in terms of missing a well-drawn character.

Bad news ends the act. A group of boyars reports that the army has been defeated by the dread Khan Gzak and that Igor and Vladimir are prisoners. Despite the fact that destruction is already threatening the city itself, with flames leaping at the windows and alarm bells ringing, they all swear to defend Yaroslavna to the end.

Alexander Borodin - Prince Igorь (Part 2)
From the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia (1998)
Kirov Opera Company & Kirov Ballet
Valery Gergiev - conductor
Yevgeny Sokovnin, Irkin Sabitov - stage direction
Nikolai Putilin - Igor Sviatoslavich, Prince of Severesk (Prince Igor)
Galina Gorchakova - Yaroslavna (his second wife)
Jevgenij Akimov - Vladimir Igorievich (his son by his first marriage)
Sergei Aleksashkin - Vladimir Yaroslavich
Nikolai Gassiev & Grigory Karasev - Skula & Yeroshka (two gudlock players)
Vladimir Vaneev - Konchak (Polovtsian Khan)
Olga Borodina - Konchakovna (daugther of Khan Konchak)
Valery Lebed - Ovlur (a Christian Polovtsian)
Tatiana Pavlovskaya - A Polovtsian Maiden

0:00 Act II, scene 1 - The prince court of Vladimir Galitsky in Putivl
16:32 Act II, scene 2 - A room in Yaroslavna's palace
48:09 Act III - The Polovtsian camp
1:12:34 Act IV - The city wall in the ruins of Putivl at dawn

Act II

Borodin was a great student of Eastern folk music, and the next two acts are strongly colored with that idiom. In the camp of the Khan Kontchak of the Polovtsians, the girls sing and dance, and Kontchakovna, Kontchak’s daughter, sings a fine, juicy love song. These are a hospitable people, and the Nov-gorodian prisoners, though well guarded, are also well treated. Night begins to fall; the prisoners return from work; the girls offer them refreshments; and then everyone retires excepting a patrol, which intones a brief occupational chorus before departing on its duties. Young Vladimir wanders into the night and sings the second love song of the act, one clearly indicating that he has fallen classically in love with the daughter of his enemy; and when Kontchakovna joins him, they sing an unexpectedly contented love duet. For her father, the Khan, has no objections to a wedding; it is only Igor who may be opposed.

Igor is much more discontented with his lot than is his son. In a fine aria he bewails his state, the loss of his army, and the certain loneliness of Yaroslavna. Ovlour, a Polovtsian renegade, secretly approaches him and offers to give him a horse to make good his escape. He points to the approaching dawn and suggests that this is a symbol of Russia’s enventual victory. Igor contemptuously refuses this aid: it would be completely dishonorable, he claims.

Good nature and respect for its noble prisoners seem to characterize the Kontchak family. The Khan most graciously offers Igor practically anything he wants in return for a nonaggression pact. He even offers him an alliance. But Igor refuses to acknowledge defeat and frankly tells Kontchak that one day he will return to the attack stronger than ever. This is an attitude the Tartar warrior not only understands but respects, and he invites Igor to be his personal guest at the entertainment to follow.

It follows at once—the series of Polovtsian dances that are the most familiar music in the score because of a splendid ballet made of them by Michel Fokine and because they are often performed separately in the concert hall (though usually without the choral parts).


Alexander Borodin - Prince Igor - Polovtsian Dances - Bolshoi Theatre


The Tartar army that had been attacking Igor’s home town at the end of Act I was not the same as the one that had taken him prisoner and was entertaining him so colorfully at the end of Act II. The former was the army of Khan Gzak; and now, at the beginning of Act III, it returns with booty and prisoners to the tune of a vigorous Oriental march. Khan Kontchak, in a grim aria, welcomes and congratulates his brothers-in-arms, and the men look forward to further rapacious raids on Russian cities like Kiev and Poltava.

The Russian prisoners have meantime been watching the proceedings, and they dread the thought of what has been happening to Poutivle. Vladimir even suggests to his father that he had erred in not taking the opportunity to escape while he had it. The Russians, however, are herded back into their tents by a group of guards, and presently the Polovtsi traitor, Ovlour, brings them brandy. As they sing in praise of their intrepid khans, the guards drink themselves to sleep.

It is now night, and Ovlour repeats his offer to Igor. This time it is welcomed. Before everything can be got ready, Kontchakovna begs Vladimir either to remain with her or to take her along. Igor sternly forbids her to come; and while the young man is tom between love and duty, Kontchakovna precipitates a decision by sounding an alarm on a sheet of iron that hangs near the tents. Igor escapes; Vladimir is taken prisoner; and Kontchak, over the protests of his fellow khans, decides that Vladimir shall, after all, marry his daughter and remain as a hostage. The drunken guards, however, are ordered hanged. This Kontchak is a most interesting fellow: he can be relentlessly brutal in military matters, yet he shows nothing but respect for his noble adversaries. He even says that in Igor’s place he should have done the same thing.

Князь Игорь
Московский театр "Новая Опера".

Музыкальный руководитель и дирижер: Евгений Самойлов
Сценическая редакция и постановка: Юрий Александров
Сценография и костюмы: Вячеслав Окунев

Действующие лица и исполнители:
Игорь Святославич - Сергей Артамонов
Ярославна - Елена Поповская
Владимир Игоревич - Алексей Татаринцев
Князь Галицкий - Евгений Ставицкий
Хан Кончак - Владимир Кудашов
Овлур - Ярослав Абаимов
Скула - Дмитрий Орлов
Ерошка - Максим Остроухов
Няня - Наталья Бороздина
Половецкая девушка - Виктория Шевцова

Хор и оркестр театра "Новая Опера"


Back in Poutivle, Yaroslavna sings sadly of the absence of her husband, making use of the same melody Igor had sung in Act II lamenting the absence of Yaroslavna. The countryside in the background is a scene of devastation, and a peasant crowd drags itself across the square of the town singing a doleful chorus. But off in the distance Yaroslavna now sees two horsemen approaching, and they turn out to be Igor and Ovlour. Gladly the royal couple embraces, and goes off to the citadel.

Our old friends, Skoula and Eroshka—drunk, as usual-come on the stage, lamenting the disaster that Igor’s leadership has brought to the country; but seeing Igor, they quickly change their tune. They know it is now more politically expedient to change sides; and so they sound the bells that summon everyone and thus are the first to announce the return of their great leader. Ovlour tells the crowd the details of the escape; Skoula and Eroshka are rewarded by the boyars: they now insist that they always hated Galitzky anyway; and everyone joins in a fine Russian chorus of thanksgiving. Finally, Igor and Yaroslavna show themselves on the walls of the citadel, and the opera closes with shouts of  "Long live Prince Igor!"

"POLOVTSIAN DANCES" one-act ballet
"The Polovtsian dances" ballet 
by composer Alexander Borodin

Art Director - Kamilla Huseynova
Ballet Tutor - Naila Mamedzade

Anar Tahirov
Alsu Gimadiyeva
Tamilla Mamedzade
Anar Mikayilov

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