Russian opera had its roots firmly laid in the 18th century. Till then, Russians were accustomed to seeing the Italian language operas, presented by Italian opera troupes. Thanks to foreign composers serving to the Russian Imperial Court, who began penning down Russian-language operas, the foundation was laid down. However, it was only in the 1770s that the composers of Russian origin made the attempt to compose operas for the Russian librettos. Though a direct replication of Italian, French and German compositions, they provided a start to Russian opera, nevertheless. In the following lines, we have given some interesting information on the background, history and origin of Russian opera.
Interesting Information On The Background & Origin Of Russian Opera
Russians got the first taste of opera in the year 1731. The Russian Empress Anna had requested the King of Poland and the Elector of Saxony August II the Strong for his Italian opera troupe, to celebrate her crowning ceremony in Moscow. Giovanni Alberto Ristori presented the first opera, Calandro, in Russia, under the direction of his father and himself. This opened the roads to Italian opera troupes in Russia. Four years later i.e. in 1735, composer Francesco Araja led Italian opera troupe was invited to perform in St. Petersburg. Araja’s La forza dell'amore e dell'odio was staged on the 8th February, 1736. In the following year, Araja’s sowcased two operas scripted by Francesco Silvanic - Seria SIl finto Nino and overo La Semiramide riconosciuta.
Araja is known to have spent about 25 years of his life, directing 14 operas for the Russia Court. The year 1742 took the Russian opera a step ahead. The crowning of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna in Moscow was a grand affair and to celebrate the event, a new theatre has been constructed. For the occasion, an opera directed by Johann Adolf Hasse, Tito Vespasiano (La clemenza di Tito), was performed. In the following year, Russian opera progressed further. The small hall, Comedie et opera, at 'Zimnij Dvorets' (the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg), was transformed into a new Opera House, which now could accommodate around thousand people.
In 1744, the anniversary of the coronation of Elizaveta Petrovna and conclusion of peace with Sweden was celebrated with an opera, presented by Araja Seleuco. Six years thence, for the first time, a Russian singer participated in the show. In 1755, for the first time, an opera done in Russian, Tsefal i Prokris, was staged. Two years later, a private opera enterprise was invited to St. Petersburg. It staged an opera every week, for the court, with two or three open public performances in a week. Some of the eminent Italian personalities who augmented Russian opera in the earlier days are Venetian Galuppi, Manfredini , Traetta , Paisiello , Sarti, Cimarosa and Spaniard Martin y Soler.
The first Russians to study the art of opera were Berezovsky and Bortniansky. They were sent by Catherine II to Italy. Meanwhile, a successful one-act opera Anyuta was staged under the direction of Mikhail Vasilyevich Popov. During this time, another successful Russian opera, Melnik – koldun, obmanshchik i svat, known especially for its music, was performed. Though Russia had a humble start, its opera were beginning to get better with time. A proof of this was the Vasily Pashkevich's comic opera, The Miser, and the Italian-trained Yevstigney Fomin's opera-melodrama Orfey i Evridika, which washighly successful.
With the start of the 19th century emerged the golden period of Russian opera. The enormous success of Ferdinand Kauer's Lesta, dneprovskaya rusalka was just the start of a glorious future ahead. Next in line was the patriotic opera, Ivan Susanin by Cavos, which had its roots in the Russian history. With the passage of time, Russian opera just got better and better, with many marvelous opera shows being staged. Alexey Verstovsky played an imperative role in the Russian Opera, with his more that 30 opera-vaudevilles and 6 grand-operas, including Askold's Grave, which had about 200 performances in St Petersburg alone and 400 in Moscow, for the first 25 years.
The most spectacular performances, marked as significant events in the history of Russian opera, were presented by Mikhail Glinka. A Life for the Tsar and Ruslan and Lyudmila changed the entire concept of Russian opera and elevated it to newer heights, with its refined music. Compositions like Alexander Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and Alexander Pushkin's The Stone Guest added to the glory. Russian opera reached its peak with the works by Modest Mussorgsky and his antipode Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The former's work, Boris Godunov, is considered as a masterpiece by many till date. Some of the most distinguished personalities of the 19th century, with prolific excellence in opera, included Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Aleksandr Borodin.
Although Russia was experiencing a political tumult in the 20th century, opera still dominated the entertainment scenario. Instead of being suppressed in the surly atmosphere, the production of operas continued to grow immensely. This century saw the opening of While Zimin Opera (established in the 1904) and Sergei Diaghilev ruled company, 'Saisons Russes' (which began in Paris, in 1913). One of the most prominent composers during this century was Vladimir Rebikov, who was best known for his opera, The Christmas Tree.
Another composer of 20th century, primarily known for his unique ideas, was Igor Stravinsky. While Sergei Prokofiev explored the genre of humor, smartness and novelty in his operas, Dmitri Shostakovich is best recalled for his satirical opera The Nose. Other composers who made a significant mark in the epoch were Edison Denisov, Nikolai Karetnikov, Rodion Shchedrin, Alexander Knayfel and Elena Firsova. However, the new generation of composers faced a lot of restrictions on their creative freedom, by the authorities as well as older colleagues.
Russian opera formed new parameters in the 19th and 20th century. Experimenting with new styles, Russian opera producers came up with the noisy premieres of two comic operas in the early 21st century. The first one was Tsar Demyan - a frightful opera performance, a combined project of composers Leonid Desyatnikov, Vyacheslav Gaivoronsky, Iraida Yusupova, Vladimir Nikolayev and the creative collective "Kompozitor," (a pseudonym for the well-known music critic Pyotr Pospelov). Composer Leonid Desyatnikov came out with the second opera, Rosenthal's Children, which was highly successful. Even today, one can see the passion to enhance the style and quality of opera, among the opera producers of Russia.