Prince Igor | Opera

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September 2020 Next


A Square in the Ancient Russian City of Putivl 
Prince Igor, together with his son Vladimir and his army of warriors, is getting ready for a campaign against the nomadic Polovtsians who are launching devastating attacks on Russia’s virginal lands. The people greet Igor and the warriors and wish them victory. 
Suddenly it gets dark – a solar eclipse begins. The people, the princes and the boyars regard this as an ill omen, an inauspicious sign, and advise Igor to put off the campaign. The Prince’s wife Yaroslavna also implores him to stay at home. But Prince Igor is unbending. He is certain that his cause is just – he will defend Russia. 
The prince bids farewell to his wife and tenderly consoles her, giving assurances that she need not worry about him and should await his victorious return. He entrusts Yaroslavna to the care of her brother, Prince Vladimir Galitsky, whom he appoints as his deputy in Putivl. 
Unnoticed, two warriors, Skula and Yeroshka, leave Igor’s army; it is their intention to join the service of Prince Galitsky. 
After being blessed, Igor and his detachment set off for the campaign.

Evening in the Polovtsian Camp 
The Polovtsian maidens are trying to amuse Konchakovna, the daughter of Khan Konchak, with songs and dances. All her thoughts are focussed on the captive youth – Prince Vladimir. 
Konchakovna impatiently waits for a moment when she can see him. 
Igor’s son Vladimir appears, and is charmed by Konchakovna. 
But Prince Igor does not wish even to hear of Vladimir’s marriage. Konchak, however, agrees to marry his daughter to the Russian prince. 
Prince Igor cannot sleep. He is oppressed by gloomy thoughts. It is not easy to overcome the shame of defeat and captivity. It is hard to accept the thought of his native land being enslaved. Igor passionately yearns for freedom in order to liberate Russia. He tenderly recalls his beloved wife Yaroslavna. 
Suddenly Ovlur, a baptized Polovtsian, comes to him. He offers Igor his help to escape from captivity. But the latter refuses – a Russian prince ought not to flee. 
The Polovtsian Khan Konchak bestows high honours on Igor as his honoured guest. He promises to free him if he agrees never to raise his sword against the Polovtsians again. But Igor rejects Konchak’s proposal and does not hide his intentions: once free he will assemble his forces and make war against the Polovtsians once more. 
The pride and valour of the Russian prince delight Konchak. 
On the Khan’s orders, the captive women and warriors entertain Igor to dispel his gloomy thoughts with dances glorifying the mighty Konchak.

The Polovtsian Camp 
Khan Gzak, sent on a campaign by Konchak, returns with captive Russians and rich plunder. Knowing of the disaster that has befallen his native Putivl, Prince Igor regrets his deeds and calls on the Russian princes to unite together. To save their native land, Igor conceives a plan to escape. Konchakovna raises the alarm. But Igor and Ovlur manage to take cover. The wrathful Polovtsians demand the death of his son Vladimir, but Konchak not only grants him pardon, but decides that Konchakovna may marry Vladimir into the bargain.

The City Walls of Putivl 
In the morning, Yaroslavna, having abandoned all hopes of Igor’s return, mourns his loss. Addressing the wind, the sun and the River Dnepr, she awaits their answer: where is Igor and what has happened to him? Yaroslavna’s lament is repeated by the mournful song of the villagers who lament the destruction and scorching of the land.

The Court of Prince Vladimir Galitsky 
Prince Galitsky is feasting at a lavishly laid table, with his servants led by Skula and Yeroshka. His power is limited – he would like to send Yaroslavna to a nunnery and become the Prince of Putivl by dethroning Prince Igor. 
Agitated maidens run into the courtyard. They beg Prince Galitsky to liberate their girlfriend who was taken by warriors into a chamber for amusement. But the prince drives the maidens out to the amusement of the drunken crowd. 
The drinking-bout reaches its culmination. Skula and Yeroshka, bribed by Prince Galitsky, together with the warriors whose boldness grows from the revelry incite the people to mutiny: “We shall depose Igor and elevate Vladimir to the throne! What do we have to fear?”

A Chamber in Yaroslavna’s Terem Palace. Alarm 
The Princess feels uneasy. Troublesome dreams and gloomy presentiments remain with her day and night. She has had no news from the Prince for a long time. And she sees the strife and plotting around her by the princes, even her own brother Vladimir has conceived some evil deed, hoping to dethrone Prince Igor and become the Prince of Putivl. 
The sudden arrival of the girls whom Prince Galitsky has driven out from the court distracts Yaroslavna from her sad thoughts. The girls implore the Princess to defend them from their offender. Yaroslavna accuses her brother of treason and treachery, but she cannot reason with him. Called on by the Princess to answer, Prince Galitsky conducts himself impertinently, claiming power in Putivl. 
The boyars arrive with gloomy news: Igor’s armed force has been defeated and the Prince himself imprisoned with his son; the Russian princes wallow in dissent, while hordes of Polovtsians march on Russia. Disturbed by what she has heard, Yaroslavna wishes to interrogate the messengers herself. Meanwhile, Prince Galitsky and his servants seize the moment and stir up a rebellion. The alarm bell is heard, heralding danger – the Polovtsians are approaching Putivl. The boyars and the people are filled with resolve to defend their lands.

Program and cast


Igor Svyatoslavich: Roman Burdenko
Yaroslavna: Tatiana Pavlovskaya
Konchakovna: Olga Borodina
Vladimir Igorevich: Yevgeny Akimov
Prince Galitsky: Vladimir Vaneyev
Khan Konchak: Sergei Aleksashkin


Music by Alexander Borodin
Libretto by the composer based on Old Russian epos The Tale of Igor´s Raid

Production by Yevgeny Sokovnin (1954)
Set Designers: Nina Tikhonova, Nikolai Melnikov (1954)
Polovtsian Dances choreography by Michel Fokine (1909)

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Director of the new version: Irkin Gabitov
Designer of the new version: Vyacheslav Okunev
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva

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Mariinsky Theatre

For more than two centuries the Mariinsky Theatre has been presenting the world with a plethora of great artistes: the outstanding bass and founding father of the Russian operatic performing school Osip Petrov served here; this is where such great singers as Fyodor Chaliapin, Ivan Yershov, Medea and Nikolai Figner and Sofia Preobrazhenskaya honed their skills and rose to glory. Ballet dancers reigned supreme on this stage, among them Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. This is where George Balanchine set out on the road to art. This theatre has witnessed the dawn of the talents of such brilliant theatre decorators as Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Golovin, Alexandre Benois, Simon Virsaladze and Fyodor Fyodorovsky among countless others.


The Mariinsky Theatre can trace its history as far back as 1783, when a Decree on the establishment of a theatre committee “for performances and music” was published on 12 July and the Bolshoi Stone Theatre was opened on Carousel Square amid great pomp on 5 October. The theatre gave the square its new name – even today it is known as Theatre Square.

Built according to plans by Antonio Rinaldi, the Bolshoi Theatre staggered the public with the sheer scale of its dimensions, its majestic architecture and its stage, equipped with the most up-to-date theatre equipment and machinery. Giovanni Paisiello’s opera Il mondo della luna was performed at the opening. The Russian Opera Company performed here in turn with the Italian and French Companies, and there were also plays and concerts of vocal and instrumental music.

St Petersburg was expanding and its image changed constantly. In 1802-1803 Thomas de Thomon – a brilliant architect and draughtsman – undertook the capital reconstruction of the interior layout and decor of the theatre, noticeably altering its external appearance and proportions. The new, grand and majestic Bolshoi Theatre became one of the architectural attractions of the capital city on the River Neva along with the Admiralty, the Stock Exchange and Kazan Cathedral. But on the night of 1 January 1811 there was a tremendous fire at the Bolshoi Theatre. In two days, the rich interior was lost and the façade was seriously damaged by the fire. Thomas de Thomon, who worked on the reconstruction plans of his darling project, did not live to see it come to fruition. On 3 February 1818 the restored Bolshoi Theatre opened once again with the prologue Apollo and Pallas in the North and Charles Didelot’s ballet Flore et Zéphire to music by the composer Caterino Cavos.

We are coming to the “golden age” of the Bolshoi Theatre. The repertoire of the “post-fire” era included Mozart’sDie Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail and La clemenza di Tito. Russian audiences were captivated by Rossini’sLa Cenerentola, Semiramida, La gazza ladra and Il barbiere di Siviglia. In May 1824 came the premiere of Weber’sDer Freischütz – a work that exerted a great influence on the birth of Russian romantic opera. There were the musical comedies of Alyabyev and Verstovsky; one of the favourite repertoire operas was Cavos’ Ivan Susanin, which was performed right up until the appearance of Glinka’s opera on the same theme. The legendary Charles Didelot is linked with the birth of the international glory of Russian ballet. It was during these years that Pushkin, who immortalised the theatre in his ageless poetry, was a regular visitor to the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg.

In 1836, to improve the acoustics the architect Alberto Cavos – son of the composer and conductor – replaced the cupola ceiling of the auditorium with a flat one, above which he housed an artistic workshop and a hall for decorating the sets. Alberto Cavos removed the columns from the auditorium as they interfered with the view and distorted the acoustics; he also gave the auditorium its traditional horse-shoe shape and increased its length and height to seat up to two thousand people.

On 27 November 1836, with the first performance of Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar the reconstructed theatre opened once again. Perhaps by chance and perhaps by design, the premiere of Ruslan and Lyudmila – Glinka’s second opera – was held there exactly six years later, on 27 November 1842. These two dates would be enough to ensure that St Petersburg’s Bolshoi Theatre had earned its place forever in the history of Russian culture. But of course there were also performances of masterpieces of European music – operas by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Auber and Thomas...

In time, performances by the Russian Opera Company were transferred to the Alexandrinsky Theatre and the so-called Circus Theatre, which was located opposite the Bolshoi (where the Ballet Company and the Italian Opera Company continued to perform).

When, in 1859, the Circus Theatre was destroyed by fire, a new theatre was built on the same site, once again by Alberto Cavos. It was named the Mariinsky in honour of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II. The first theatre season in the new building opened on 2 October 1860 with Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar under the baton of the Russian Opera Company’s conductor Konstantin Lyadov, father of the renowned composer Anatoly Lyadov.

The Mariinsky Theatre secured and developed the great traditions of Russia’s first musical theatre. With the arrival in 1863 of Eduard Nápravník, who replaced Konstantin Lyadov as Principal Conductor, a new and glorious era in the theatre’s history began. The half century Nápravník dedicated to the Mariinsky Theatre stands out for the premieres of the most important operas in the history of Russian music. We will mention just a few – Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Maid of Pskov, May Night and The Snow Maiden, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans, The Enchantress, The Queen of Spades and Iolanta, Rubinstein’s The Demon, Taneyev’s Orest… In the early 20thcentury, the theatre’s repertoire included operas by Wagner (among them the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen), Richard Strauss’ Elektra, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia and Musorgsky’sKhovanshchina…

Marius Petipa, who became Director of the Ballet Company in 1869, continued the traditions of his predecessors – Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Léon. Petipa jealously preserved classical works such as Giselle, La Esmeralda and Le Corsaire, subjecting them only to careful revisions. His production of La Bayadère brought scope and range of choreographic composition to the ballet stage for the first time, where “dance became assimilated to music.”

Petipa’s lucky meeting with Tchaikovsky, who stated that “ballet is also a symphony”, resulted in the creation ofThe Sleeping Beauty – a veritable poem in music and choreography. Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s collaboration produced the choreography for The Nutcracker. After Tchaikovsky’s death, Swan Lake took on a second life at the Mariinsky Theatre – and again with choreography by both Petipa and Ivanov. Petipa cemented his reputation as a symphonist choreographer with his production of Glazunov’s ballet Raymonda. His innovative ideas were seized upon by the young Michel Fokine, who staged Tcherepnin’s Le Pavillon d’Armide, Saint-Saëns’ The Dying Swan and Chopiniana to music by Chopin at the Mariinsky Theatre as well as ballets created in Paris – Schéhérazade to music by Rimsky-Korsakov andThe Firebird and Pétrouchka by Stravinsky.

The Mariinsky Theatre has undergone several reconstructions. In 1885, when most productions had been transferred to the Mariinsky Theatre prior to the close of the Bolshoi, the principal architect of the Imperial Theatres Viktor Schröter added a three-storey wing to the left of the building for theatre workshops, rehearsal rooms, an electricity substation and boiler room. In 1894 under Schröter’s supervision, the wooden rafters were replaced with steel and concrete, the side wings extended and the audience foyers enlarged. The main façade, too, was subject to reconstruction, taking on monumental forms.

In 1886 ballets, which had until then continued to be performed at the Bolshoi Theatre, were transferred to the Mariinsky Theatre. The building of the St Petersburg Conservatoire was built on the site of the Bolshoi Theatre.

A government decree of 9 November 1917 made the Mariinsky Theatre the property of the State and it was transferred to the People’s Enlightenment Commissariat. In 1920 it began to be called the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (GATOB), and in 1935 it was named after Sergei Mironovich Kirov. Along with classics from the previous century, in the 20s and early 30s contemporary operas began to be staged at the theatre – among them Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier; and ballets were mounted that reinforced the new choreographic trend that had been popular for decades, the so called “drama-ballet” – Reinhold Glière’s The Red Poppy, Boris Asafiev’s Flames of Paris and The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, Alexander Krein’s Laurencia and Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet among others.

The last pre-WWII opera premiere at the Kirov Theatre was Wagner’s Lohengrin, the second performance of which ended late in the evening on 21 June 1941, though the performances announced for 24 and 27 June were replaced by Ivan Susanin. During World War II the theatre was evacuated to Perm, where there were premieres of several works including Aram Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh. On returning to Leningrad, the theatre opened the season on 1 September 1944 with Glinka’s opera Ivan Susanin.

In the 50s-70s such famed ballets as Farid Yarullin’s Shurale, Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus and Boris Tishchenko’s Twelve with choreography by Leonid Yakobson, Sergei Prokofiev’s The Stone Flower and Arif Melikov’s The Legend of Love with choreography by Yuri Grigorovich and Dmitry Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony with choreography by Igor Belsky were staged at the theatre, and along with productions of these new ballets the theatre diligently cared for its classical legacy. The opera repertoire was enriched with works by Prokofiev, Dzerzhinsky, Shaporin and Khrennikov alongside operas by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Verdi and Bizet.

Between 1968 and 1970 the theatre underwent a major reconstruction in line with designs by Salomeya Gelfer, as a result of which the left wing of the building was “stretched out” and took on the form it has today.

An important stage in the theatre’s history came in the 1980s with productions of Tchaikovsky’s operas Eugene Oneginand The Queen of Spades, staged by Yuri Temirkanov, the theatre’s Director from 1976. These productions, still in the theatre’s repertoire today, saw the emergence of a new generation of performers.

In 1988 Valery Gergiev was appointed Principal Conductor of the theatre. On 16 January 1992 the theatre’s historic name was restored and it became the Mariinsky Theatre once again. And in 2006 the company and the orchestra were presented with the Concert Hall at 20 Pisareva’ Street, built on the initiative of Valery Gergiev, Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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