Daniel Barenboim starts off the season with a work of central importance in Slavic opera literature but one which is not so well known in Germany. »Die Zarenbraut« by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The work is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov who has been among ...
Daniel Barenboim starts off the season with a work of central importance in Slavic opera literature but one which is not so well known in Germany. »Die Zarenbraut« by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The work is directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov who has been among the opera stage directors most in demand worldwide ever since his staging of Boris Godunov with Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 2005, his first work outside of Russia.
Moscow's Alexandrovka suburb, in the autumn of 1571. In Russia rules Tsar Ivan IV, called »Grozny« by his contemporaries (actually »The Severe«, but generally translated as »The Terrible«). Supported by his bodyguards, the oprichniki, he has established a veritable terror regime which benefits few and suppresses many. He is a widower and is keen on getting married again, for the third time. No less than 2000 young women are presented to him, and one of them is to become his bride. The tsar's choice falls on the beauty Marfa Sobakina, the daughter of a merchant from Novgorod. She is in love with the boyar Ivan Lykov, but she yields to the monarch's request and her father's wish.
This courtship is embedded in a tragic story of love, jealousy, intrigue, treason and death. Shortly after the wedding Marfa falls ill and dies under mysterious circumstances. Obviously poison was involved - yet who prepared it and when it was administered and by whom comes to light only at the end. Several persons are involved in the obscure happenings: Grigory Gryaznoy, an influential oprichnik conscious of his power, his former lover Lyubasha who becomes more and more desperate and the tsar's ruthless personal physician Bomelius. The tsar himself has only one nonspeaking appearance, but he is mentioned rather frequently - and he is very much present in the music. His anthem is heard several times, his followers praise him in song, yet his reign of terror casts a threatening shadow over everything.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the youngest representative of the so-called »Mighty Handful«, a group of five composers dedicated to establishing a national Russian musical culture, had in mind a great tragic opera with a real historic background when writing his »Zarenbraut«, just as Mussorgsky had done with »Boris Godunov«. In his first opera »Das Mädchen von Pskow« of 1868, Rimsky-Korsakov had already focused on Tsar Ivan Grozny, a highly controversial figure at that time and today. Three decades later he composes »Tsarskaya nevesta« (»Die Zarenbraut«) - the ninth of his 15 operas - based on the drama of the same name by Lev Mey which he highly esteemed. Essentially, he retained the drama's plot and characters.
From a musical point of view, Rimsky-Korsakov did not so much follow Mussorgsky and the aesthetic principles of the »Mighty Handful«, but rather Mikhail Glinka, the founder of Russian opera tradition, who died in Berlin in 1857. Instead of requesting the text to be declaimed as realistically as possible, the »Zarenbraut« relies on well-defined musical forms such as arias, duets, ensembles and choirs. This work which premiered in Moscow in 1899 is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the operatic literature of its time. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a particularly colourful score, with attractive challenges for the singers of the major parts and for the choir and orchestra. Many melodies bring to mind Russian folklore, even though the composer does so without direct quotations. »Die Zarenbraut« is a comprehensive and complex work in terms of the subject which reflects a chapter in Russian history which is not at all well known in Central and Western Europe. In terms of the music, many of the passages are among some of the most impressive works that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote.