Glinka and his Opera, Ruslan and LudmilaMikail Ivanovich Glinka (1803-1857) was undoubtedly the first major Russian musical composer whose first opera, "Life for the Tsar" (1836) was the turning point in his career. The work was not only a great success, but in a manner became the origin and basis of a Russian school of national music. His melodies show a distinct affinity to the popular songs of the Russians, so that the term "national" may justly be applied to them. His appointment as imperial chapelmaster and conductor of the opera of St.Petersburg was the reward for his dramatic successes. He was a contemporary of the Irish composer, John Field, and the Spanish composer, Fernando Sor, both of whom had moved to Russia.
His second opera, "Ruslan and Ludmila" (1842) was founded on the epic poem of Pushkin, undoubtedly the greatest of Russian writers. As the Russian historian, the late Mr.Kapustin of New York, once related to me, Glinka wrote the fantastic overture to this opera in the course of a single night, as an example in composition to his students! An incredible achievement! This music and the story are a perfect complement to each other, like a hand and glove.
The story of Ruslan & Ludmila concerns itself with the magical abduction of the beautiful Ludmila, betrothed of Ruslan, from her wedding bed, by the sorcerer, Chernomor, whose supernatural powers are beyond belief! Ruslan and three knights at the wedding feast (who happen to covet Ludmila, and are filled with envy and jealousy) gallop off in all directions to rescue her. The story is multi-threaded and describes all sorts of encounters of the knights with witches, wise hermits, sirens, seductresses, magic castles, magic hats and swords, enchanted gardens, precious jewels, bewitched creatures, etc., etc. The setting is in the time of the Vikings (pre 10th century), in the vicinity or the river Dniepr, and is embellished with the type of fabulous material one finds in the "Story of 1000 and One Nights", to which are added folkloric elements dating from Russian pre-Christian times. As is his wont, in a few places, Pushkin intersperses his poem with observations of human character and its frailty.
These pictures show the wedding feast, the encounter with the Monstrous Head, and the final vanquishing of the sorcerer by Ruslan. The illustrations are done in the typical style of the Russian village of Paleh, where the justly well known Russian enamelled boxes, depicting Russian scenes and folklore, have been made for about the past two centuries.
Click on any picture for larger view.
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