Opera Abbreviated: Prince Igor
Listen above for a few words about the next Metropolitan live in HD presentation, Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor. See it Saturday March 1 at noon, or listen to the live radio broadcast on Classical 101.
Catherine the Great financed the first Russian language operas, at the end of the 18th century. Russia’s great opera houses came under the Tsar’s personal authority and pocketbook. Russian opera was produced in all splendor. The battles are horrific, the love scenes intense. Peasants are slaughtered, soldiers march in victory, religious fanatics set themselves on fire (while singing!) maidens suffer and tenors bellow. Basses sing long and low and very impressively. Hang the cost. The Tsar was paying. Russian opera is all about spectacle. Prince Igor is no exception.
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was a chemist by profession and a musician by avocation. Symphonies and chamber music came slowly to Borodin. More slowly came this blazing opera. Prince Igor was never finished. It exists in a monumental torso, linked by the famous and sexy Polovtsian Dances. Rimsky-Korsakov dabbled in connecting some of the music dots, but its hard to tell what is Borodin’s and what is not.
No matter. Russian opera became a patriotic declaration. Russia was a glorious, tragic and complicated land, comfortable in splendor and enjoying its melancholy. The tale of a 12th century Russian prince and his travails is told with vivid dancing, and music in Technicolor.