A Musical Note (1874)

Tchaikovsky Research
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A Musical Note (Музыкальная заметка) [1] (TH 290 ; ČW 555) was Tchaikovsky's twenty-fifth music-review article for the Moscow journal Russian Register (Русские ведомости), in which it was published on 10 September 1874 [O.S.]. It was also the first of the articles to be signed in his own name, instead of with the initials "B.L.".

This article contains encouraging advice for another young singer of great promise, the soprano Sharlotta Smelskaya, who had just made her stage début; observations about the great progress made by the mezzo-soprano Yevlaliya Kadmina since her own début a year earlier, which Tchaikovsky had praised so enthusiastically (TH 280); and a bitter remark in passing about how many Russian artists did not live up to their promise because they failed to perfect themselves through hard work


Completed by 10/22 September 1874 (date of publication). Concerning the Russian Opera Company's productions of Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and Glinka's A Life for the Tsar at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre on 1/13 September 1874 and 8/20 September 1874 respectively.

English translation

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Our Russian Opera Company will very soon be making a valuable new acquisition in the person of Madame Smelskaya [2], a singer who last week débuted with great success in the roles of Natasha in Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and Antonida in A Life for the Tsar. This young débutante possesses without any doubt many fine qualities which hold out to her the prospect of a brilliant career, as long as she does not content herself with her first successes—something, alas!, that happens only too often—and rest on her freshly won laurels. Madame Smelskaya is endowed with a sufficiently strong, fresh, and well-trained voice, as well as with a reliable intonation. Her singing is full of genuine passion and great musicality, thanks to which she was able to perform her two roles very convincingly.

She acts with great fervour, but, of course, she has not yet reached that level of stage competence and perfection which can only be acquired through experience. Besides, even her vocal performance was by no means faultless either. However, I repeat: Madame Smelskaya has all the potential for becoming a truly great artiste and for eventually constituting one of the finest adornments to our opera stage, which has hitherto been living in such want.

Overall, it must be said that the performances of the Russian Opera which have taken place lately have caused a very favourable impression on the public, in particular thanks to the contribution of Madame Kadmina [3], who in the roles of the Princess in Rusalka and Vanya in A Life for the Tsar has displayed not only her tremendous talent—which had already been acknowledged unanimously before—but, most importantly, her ability to perfect herself—an ability that, as everyone knows, is rarely to be found amongst our Russian artists. Madame Kadmina has evidently been working hard over the summer and has not wasted her time in vain. Her voice has gained in strength and stability, and in her singing there is now more composure and self-restraint. Her acting, too, is more thoughtful and shows greater maturity of understanding. In short, from a talented young débutante with great promise Madame Kadmina has now turned into a real artiste, and it is only to be wished that she should continue to perfect herself and to strive steadfastly after her ideal, which, though it may be far away still, can nevertheless definitely be attained by her.

As I am talking about the Russian Opera, I cannot fail to say a word of praise about Mr Dodonov, who in both of the aforesaid operas achieved a great and fully deserved success. In particular, it is worth noting the artistry with which Mr Dodonov emerges victorious from the incredible difficulties of the part of Sobinin, which is written for a strong tenor with high chest notes—something that this singer's graceful, but not especially strong voice lacks. The role of Susanin in A Life for the Tsar was sung by Mr Radonezhsky [4], who, probably under the influence of Madame Kadmina's ardent performance, cast off his usual imperturbable demeanour, felt himself inspired, and thanks to this produced a very favourable impression with his handsome voice.

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. Entitled 'A Musical Notice' in ČW. There are also two other articles with the same title dating from 1872 and 1873 (see TH 267 and TH 280).
  2. Sharlotta Leopoldovna Smelskaya (real surname Bondi), soprano, soloist at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre from 1874 to 1883 — note by Ernst Kuhn.
  3. See TH 280 for more information on the mezzo-soprano and actress Yevlaliya Kadmina (1853–1881), as well as her tragic fate.
  4. Platon Radonezhsky (1827–1881), Russian bass-baritone — note by Ernst Kuhn.