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date: 20 October 2019

Life for the Tsar, A [Zhizn’ za tsarya; Ivan Susanin]locked

  • Richard Taruskin

Extract

[Zhizn’ za tsarya; Ivan Susanin]

‘Patriotic heroic-tragic opera’ in five acts (or four acts with epilogue) by Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka to a libretto by Baron Yegor Fyodorovich, Baron Rozen, Vladimir Sollogub, Nestor Vasil’yevich Kukol’nik and Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky; St Petersburg, Bol’shoy Theatre, 27 November/9 December 1836 (as Ivan Susanin, with a new libretto by Sergey Gorodetsky, Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 21 February 1939).

The earliest Russian opera to achieve permanent repertory status (hence the cornerstone of the Russian national repertory) and the first to be performed abroad (in Prague under Balakirev, 1866), A Life for the Tsar was, quite simply, the first Russian opera that was truly an opera (not a Singspiel), competitive with yet stylistically distinct from its most advanced Western European counterparts. For these reasons its historical significance is impossible to overrate: in Yury Keldïsh’s memorable phrase, the opera ‘marked the boundary between the past and the future of Russian music’, and it was immediately so perceived (especially, at first, by literary men such as Pushkin and Gogol)....

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