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date: 28 May 2020

Yudif’ (‘Judith’)locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

(‘Judith’)

Opera in five acts by Alexander Nikolayevich Serov to a libretto based on the composer’s scenario after Paolo Giacometti’s Giuditta (originally written in Italian by Ivan Antonovich Giustiniani), with textual accretions (mostly to already-composed music) by Konstantin Zvantsov, Dmitry Lobanov and Apollon Maykov, inspired in part by Friedrich Hebbel’s tragedy; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 16/28 May 1863.

Richard Wagner accurately guessed the way his Russian friend served up the bloody Apocryphal perennial about the Judean heroine who rescues her besieged people by seducing and beheading the Assyrian commander Holofernes: ‘In five acts, isn’t it? First, populace; then, Judith alone; after that, in the camp, the murder, and triumphant return’. Although by 1863 Serov had long since declared himself Wagner’s disciple (and his evident attempt to cast his musical drama in the form of a ‘continuous finale’ testifies to his sincerity), he remained true to the conventional format of grand ‘historical’ opera. The outer acts are vast choral tableaux: the first ends with an effectively pessimistic fadeout, the last with a grand apotheosis crowned by the heroine’s coloratura. The Assyrian acts (3 and 4) contain exotic ‘oriental’ songs and dances, a procession with onstage ...

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