Thursday, July 19, 2012

Rimsky-Korsakov Goes to the Opera

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was simultaneously the most learned of musicians and an autodidact; a great reader that for years thought he might be a writer and an obsessive traveler; he was a naval cadet, who had studied music but had it not been for Mily Balakirev he might never have become the titanic and indispensible figure that we know today. In the West he is above all else the composer of Scheherazade; in Russia he is also the operatic master and composer of The Tsar’s Bride.  

Courtesy of Wikipedia

It was through his studies with Balakirev that he was introduced to the men that would create Russian music as we know it. They became known as The Five or The Mighty Handful: Cui, Borodin, Balakirev, Mussorgsky and Korsakov. He read while at sea and would create in himself a master orchestrator and passionate editor. So impressive were his early creations that he was invited to teach at the St. Petersburg Conservatory while apprenticing himself to his fellow teacher Tchaikovsky becoming it was joked “it’s finish pupil “. Over the course of his dual career he would create for the stage or edit over 15 operatic works. Ironically his work as co-creator and scholar is better known than his own operatic work. These include Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina and Prince Igor. His relationship to Mussorgsky was especially close, they had been at one time roommates early in their careers and Modest would be the best man at his wedding.

The Tsar’s Bride is equal parts fiction, history romance and magic. At its’ center is a quintet of characters all in love with the wrong person. Two childhood sweethearts, Marfa and Ivan have dream of being married their whole lives. The parents are in agreement but a powerful nobleman, Gryaznoy, is obsessed with Marfa while carrying on an affair of convenience with Lyubasha. She is the unknown love of the Doctor Bomelius who holds a secret they all crave, a love potion. Gryaznoy asked:


I have something important to discuss with you.

Do you know whether there is any means

to attract a girl by enchantment?

Bomelius : There is such a means .

Courtesy of Wikipedia
It is from this seemingly off hand and whimsical remark that the entire drama of The Tsar’s Bride turns  as the lovers argue, barter, extort, murder, steal and go mad in pursuit of Bomelius' secret potion. Even Ivan the Terrible puts in an appearance as one who vies for Marfa’s hand ….

Tune in for this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and see what happens; here at noon on KPAC and KTXI. 

by Ron Moore

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