The Exquisite Russian Opera

Opera has a long, rich history in Russia. In fact, Russian opera has made many great contributions to this music genre. Many great Russian opera composers have become known throughout the world; amongst them are Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Glinka, Borodin and others. An element seen through the history of Russian opera is the foreign influence of French, German and Italian operas resulting in a sort of dualism.

Opera first arrived in Russia during the 18th century. Italian opera troupes would come to the country presenting Italian language operas. In the years that followed foreign composers began writing Russian language operas whilst serving in Russia's Imperial Court. It was only during the 1770s that Russian composers began to work on operas. This however was not genuine Russian opera, but was an important step in the development of the music. The 1800s have been described as Russian opera music's golden age. 1836 saw a turn for the good in Russian opera, when an opera by Mikhail Glinka entitled “A Life for the Tsar” was performed. Glinka created a new blend of melodies and rhythms seen in Russian folk music with techniques and forms of traditional opera. This exquisite exclusively Russian opera was also seen in Glinka's works of “Ruslan and Ludmila” and “Kamarinskaya”.

In the 1860s a group called the Mighty Five was established in Russia. The five composers, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mily Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Aleksander Borodin and Modest Musorgsky, made great efforts to fight against the dominating influences of Western music. Borodin's operatic music is known for its Russian orientalisms as well as operas telling historic stories and fairy-tales. Rimsky-Korsakov became famed for his colorful operas incorporating the modal tendencies of folk music. Anton Rubinstein and his brother Nikolai played a major role in the establishment of music conservatories in Moscow and St. Petersburg. P.I. Tchaikovsky graduated from and taught at these conservatories. Tchaikovsky's style was unique, bringing in more cosmopolitan and romantic factors.

Following the 1917 revolution, many composers left Russia. They went on to gain much success in foreign countries. Despite restrictions imposed on music by the Soviet regime, opera saw extensive growth. Rulers at the time saw music as a weapon of ideology. Therefore music was required to contain socialist thoughts. This resulted in the music being more conservative. The Russian opera music of this era became filled with sensitive orchestration and march rhythms.

Today, opera in Russia continues to be met with much popularity. Performances of both classical and modern Russian opera can be enjoyed at theaters in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities.


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