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date: 15 December 2019

Oresteya (‘The Oresteia’)locked

  • Richard Taruskin


(‘The Oresteia’)

‘Musical trilogy in three parts’ by Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev to a libretto by Alexey Alexeyevich Venkstern after Aeschylus; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 17/29 October 1895.

More pageant than opera, Taneyev’s single dramatic composition, written during the period 1887–94 and dedicated to the memory of Anton Rubinstein, was the work of a musical idealist who fairly despised the musical stage. Though necessarily a longish work with an actual running time over three hours, the action is exceedingly compressed, schematic, indeed minimal. The result, although by choice of subject something of an anomaly among the Russian operas of its time, belongs nonetheless to an identifiable (and identifiably) Russian operatic genre: a series of loosely connected individual scenes from a well-known, well-loved literary source (compare Ruslan and Lyudmila, Yevgeny Onegin or War and Peace).

None of the gory events that constitute the famous story takes place on stage. The drama proceeds through narratives, psychological monologues (some, like Clytemnestra’s in 2.i, not in Aeschylus) and leitmotif-laden entr’actes. Two of the latter – Agamemnon’s Meyerbeerian march before 1.ii and the representation of Apollo’s temple at Delphi before 3.ii – have achieved repertory status in Russia as concert pieces, as has Taneyev’s concert overture ...

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