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date: 04 June 2020

Zaporozhets za Dunayem (‘A Cossack beyond the Danube’)locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

(‘A Cossack beyond the Danube’)

‘Original little-Russian opera’ (i.e. Ukrainian-style Singspiel) in three acts by Semyon Stepanovich Gulak-Artemovsky to his own libretto; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 14/26 April 1863.

The opera is set in 18th-century Turkey (on territory now belonging to Romania). The plot, a thin thread on which to string various sorts of song, dance and stage business, revolves around a chance encounter between Ivan Karas (bass), an old Dnepr cossack (Zaporozhets), and the Turkish Sultan (baritone) travelling incognito, resulting in permission for all the cossacks beyond the Danube (that is, on Turkish territory) to resettle on Russian land. It has been suggested that the immediate inspiration for the opera was the mass repatriation of Ukrainian cossacks (many of them runaway serfs) following the emancipation in 1861. In any case, the work is in no sense an expression of Ukrainian (‘Little Russian’) nationalism. The composer, though Ukrainian-born, was a thoroughly Russified inhabitant of St Petersburg, and the opera glorifies Russian patriotism and benign authority (personified by the magnanimous sultan, reminiscent of Mozart’s Pasha Selim)....

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