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Pushkin in operas

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Pushkin's works provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (La Dame de Pique, 1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.

Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel.

Operas based on works A.S.Pushkin

Rusalka is an opera in four acts, six tableaux, by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, composed during 1848-1855. The Russian libretto was adapted by the composer from Pushkin's incomplete dramatic poem of the same name. It premiered on 4 May 1856 (Old Style) at the Theatre-circus, conducted by Konstantin Lyadov (father of Anatoly Lyadov), choreographed by Marius Petipa and Nikolay Goltz, but was badly received predominantly by the aristocracy.


Alexander Dargomizhsky: Rusalka 
The Miller: Yuri Mathiukin
Natasha: Elena Zelenskaya
The Prince: Anatoly Zaitchenko
The Princess: Tatiana Yerastova
Olga:Galina Yerkova
The Wedding Master: Sergey Mursaev
Rusalocka: Anna Stikatirova
Bolshoi Theater Choir and Orchestra
Mark Ermler, conductor


Aleko (Russian: Алеко) is the first of three completed operas by Sergei Rachmaninov. The Russian libretto was written by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and is an adaptation of the poem The Gypsies by Alexander Pushkin. The opera was written in 1892 as a graduation work at the Moscow Conservatory, and it won the highest prizes from the conservatory judges that year. It was first performed in Moscow 19 May 1892.

Mavra is a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky, and one of the earliest works of Stravinsky's neo-classical period. The libretto of the opera, by Boris Kochno, is based on Alexander Pushkin's The Little House in Kolomna. Mavra is about 25 minutes long, and features two arias, a duet, and a quartet performed by its cast of four characters. Premiere    3 June 1922.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

The Golden Cockerel

"The Golden Cockerel" illustrations by GIvan Bilibin (1906 - 1907)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - THE GOLDEN COCKEREL

King Dodon: Maxim Mikhailov
Prince Gvidon: Arkady Mishenkin
Prince Afron: Mausar Mintsaev
Queen of Shemakha: Irine Zhurina
Commander Polkan: Nikolai Nizienko
Housekeeper Amelfa: Elena Zaremba
The Astrologer: Yuri Markelov
Voice of the Golden Cockerel: Irina Udalova

The Bolshoi Ballet
Choir of the Bolshoi Theatre
Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre
EVGENY SVETLANOV, cond. - 1989

Two days before he died, in 1908, Rimsky-Koxsakov (1844-1908) wrote to his publisher, В. P. Jurgenson, as follows: "As regards Le coq d'or, there is trouble ahead. The Governor-General of Moscow is opposed to the production of this opera and has informed the censor about it. I think that they will be against it in St. Petersburg for the same reason."

The composer was right. Even though Jurgenson had already published part of the score without molestation, it was sixteen months before the opera finally reached the stage, and then only after certain changes had been made. The composer, therefore, never saw it.

It has sometimes been thought that objections were raised because a phenomenally silly king has a leading part, and the Czar's employees were still nervous on account of the 1905 revolutionary crisis. Perhaps a better guess is that it was a way of hobbling Rimsky himself, who had been effectively active at the time in wresting some of the control of the St Petersburg Conservatory away from the bureaucrats and the police. For the tale, coming from the pen of the nationally honored poet Pushkin, could scarcely have been taken exception to. Nor, for that matter, is there anything—revolutionary or otherwise—that can be read into the engaging but utterly obscure symbolism of the libretto.

Ideally, the opera should be performed by a cast that can move bodies and limbs with the same grace and virtuosity as it can sing. Diaghilev, in Paris, put on a production with the singers sitting still, in boxes by the side of the stag, while a ballet troupe mimed the action. The idea was exported, with success, to both England and the United States. More recently it has been given generally with a single cast; and when that cast included such enticing figures as those of Lily Pons and Ezio Pinza, it was certainly worth going to see as well as to hear.



(Zolotoy Pyetushok—The Golden Cockerel)

Opera in three acts by Nikolai Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov with libretto in Russian by Vladimir Ivanovich Byelsky, based on a fairy tale by Alexandre Sergevich Pushkin, which he, in turn, had heard from his nurse





AMELFA, the royal housekeeper




Time: unspecified

Place: a mythical kingdom

First performance at Moscow, October 7, 1909


Tsar Dodon:


Bass. Is given a Golden Cockerel by the Astrologer to warn him of danger. He leads his army against the enemy and meets the Queen of Shemakha. When he returns with her to his capital, the Astrologer demands her as reward. Dodon kills him and is then killed by the cockerel. Created (1909) by Nikolay Speransky.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - Le Coq d'Or - Suite

King Dodon in his Palace 0:00
King Dodon on the Battlefield 9:13
King Dodon with Queen Shemakha 13:44
Marriage Feast and Lamentable End of King Dodon 20:26

L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Ernest Ansermet

Prince Guidon:


Tenor. Son of Tsar Dodon. Killed in battle. Creator (1909) not traced.

Prince Afron:

Baritone. Son of Tsar Dodon. Killed in battle. Creator (1909) not traced.

General Polkan:

Bass. General in Tsar Dodon's army. Creator ( 1909 ) not traced



Contralto. Housekeeper to Tsar Dodon. Creator (1909) not traced.



Tenor. A travesti role. Gives Tsar Didon a cockerel to warn him of enemies, but later demands the Tsar's betrothed for his reward. Is killed by the Tsar who in turn is killed by the cockerel. Created (1909) by Ivan Altchevsky.

Queen of Shemakha:


Soprano. She seduces Tsar Dodon after a battle and returns with him to his capital, where the Astrologer demands her for himself. She repulses Dodon. Created (1909) by Aureliya Dobrovol'skaya.

Rimsky-Korsakov - Hymn to the Sun, from The Golden Cockerel

Golden Cockerel:


Soprano. Travesti role. Warns the Tsar of enemies. Later pecks him on the head and kills him. Creator (1909) not traced.



The most famous tune from the opera is, of course, the Hymn to the Sun, which the Queen of Shemakha sings in Act IL The introduction to the hymn, following immediately upon a muted trumpet call, is almost the first music heard. Then, before the curtain, comes the Astrologer. In a high, thin voice, almost like the xylophone that accompanies him, he tells the audience that he will conjure up a fairy tale with an edifying moral.


King Dodon sits on his throne in the magnificent council room of some mythical kingdom in fairy-tale land. He is getting old, he says; the army isn't much good (the guards, as a matter of fact, can be seen sleeping at their posts); and he doesn't like making war. What can he do about all those enemies who are making nuisances of themselves? Just keep everyone at home and not think about it, says bis elder son. Guidon. Disband die army, says the younger son, Afron, and have them re-form behind the enemy for an attack. Old General Polkan points out that both these plans are pretty idiotic but he has nothing more practicable to offer.

The Astrologer happens by convenienfly at this moment, and he offers the only solution that could be regarded as sensible in a fairy tale. He gives the King a golden cockerel which will be quiet when there is no danger but will warn everyone by crowing when there is. The delighted Dodon offers anything he wants in exchange for the cockerel. and the Astrologec says he will decide later on what that may be. Thus everyone can go to sleep again for the time being; and the King retires, attended by his housekeeper Amelfa, to sweet dreams graphically described in the orchestra.

The first warning from the cockerel causes the King to be awakened and order off bis sons and an army to meet the enemy and come home as soon as possible. Once more everyone else goes to sleeps. The cockerel's second summons, however, is more emphatic. General Polkan advises the King that this time he must be off to the wars himself. Grumbling about the inconvenience and the deplorable state of his armor, Dodon gets ready for battle and is cheered off to the wars by his court.


Early in the morning, in a narrow mountain pass, it is evident that Dodon's forces have met disaster. There lie the bodies of many soldiers, including his two sons; and when he comes upon them, accompanied by General Polkan, he utters a sad and deeply Slavic lamentation.

As the mists on the scene begin to disperse, a tent comes into view, frightening the King. He orders up some ineffective artillery, but before the soldiers can make the cannon go off, there emerges from the tent a ravishingly beautiful young vwoman. This is the Queen of Shemakha, and her rendition of the Hymn to the Sun rivets the favorable attention of Dodon, Polkan, and the entire surviving army. At its close she identifies herself saying that she has come to conquer Dodon's kingdom, not by force, but by her beauty. Dodon orders away the soldiery (who exeunt, bearing bodies); the Queen's slaves bring out some cushions for her visitors; and a very unusual exercise in international diplomacy ensues.

Polkan represents his country in the initial questioning period, but his gambits are so undiplomatic and personal that the Queen asks Dodon to dismiss him. (Polkan suggests, for example, that a mysterious voice heard by the Queen during the night was a man under her bed.) With the General in forced retirement behind the tent, whence he occasionally takes a surreptitious peek, the Queen goes to work in earnest on the foolish old King. She sidles up to him; she sings him a frankly voluptuous song about her own beauties when she is completely unclothed; she invites him into her tent (an invitation be does not fed up to accepting;; and she asks him to entertain her with a song. When Dodon has obliged with a foolish little ditty, she goes on to describe her own homeland, and to say how much she needs a masterful man in her life.

Overcome by her beauty and her not very subtle suggestions, Dodon is enticed into making a complete fool of himself by dancing for her, and his conquest is completed when she orders out her slave girls to do a slow, suggestive dance for him in return. He offers her bis hand, bis hearty his kingdom, and the head of the offending General Polkan. With complete cynicism the Queen accepts. Her golden chariot is ordered out, and the two start out on a triumphal march home while her slaves sing a satirical chorus in praise of the king who walks like a camel and has the face of an ape.



At home the weather is bad, and the crowd gathered outside King Dodon's palace considers this ominous. Amelfa, however, assures them that Dodon has won a great victory (albeit he bas lost his two sons), he has saved a beautiful princess from a dragon, and he is bringing her home to reign by his side.

A great procession arrives, at its close the golden chariot carrying the King and Queen. Everyone greets them with devotion and fervor, but the Queen continues to act disdainfully.

But now the Astrologer comes back and demands his reward. He wants nothing less than the Queen herself. First the King offers almost anything as a substitute, even half his kingdom; but when the Astrologer sticks to his price, the King, in a rage, kills him with his sword. The Queen is cynically interested and not much moved, but the King is afraid that this may be a bad omen for his wedding, especially as a clap of thunder punctuated bis fatal blow.

He does not have long to wait before his fears are realized. As the two descend from the chariot, the golden cockerel suddenly leaves his perch, where he has been beneficently quiet all during the act, hovers for a moment over Dodon's head, and then darts down to peck him dead. A crash of thunder; sudden darkness; an evil laugh out of the dark from the Queen; and when the lights go on again, she and the Astrologer have disappeared. The crowd is bewildered and feels lost. It sings a despairing lament.


Once more the Astrologer appears before the curtain. Don't let the tragic ending bother you too much, he tells us. After all, only the Queen and he were real people; the others were figures in a fairy tale.

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