"Ruslan and Lyudmila" on the Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre

"Ruslan and Lyudmila" on the Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre («Руслан и Людмила» на сцене Большого театра) [1] (TH 302 ; ČW 567) was Tchaikovsky's thirty-seventh music-review article for the Moscow journal Russian Register (Русские ведомости), in which it was published on 5 February 1875 [O.S.].

This article contains a spirited tribute to "the sacred name" of Glinka, "the best Russian composer" whose great opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, with its "music of genius", had suffered the indignity of being staged in a less than satisfactory production (except for the performances of some of the singers) as a result of the Bolshoi Theatre's resources being drained by Moscow's Italian Opera Company, as well as due to the criminal neglect shown towards Russian opera by the Theatres' Directorate there.


Completed by 5/17 February 1875 (date of publication). Concerning a production of Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 2/14 February 1875, featuring Aleksandra Aleksandrova-Kochetova (Lyudmila), Yevlaliya Kadmina (Ratmir), and Aleksandr Dodonov (Finn).

English translation

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The performance of Ruslan and Lyudmila which took place on Sunday, as a benefit production for Madame Aleksandrova, attracted an enormous audience in spite of the ticket prices being higher than usual. The theatre was not merely full, but quite literally packed to the rafters—in every box there was a throng of spectators, most of whom were standing of course because they exceeded by far the number of available chairs. One could not but rejoice inwardly at the sight of this huge multitude which had been drawn to this place solely by the sacred name of the great Russian artist whose music is so rarely performed in Moscow—a city which is otherwise condemned to make do with the sickly-sweet banal wares of the Italian Opera Company kindly proffered to it by the obliging impresario who controls our musical stage.

Even greater consolation was afforded by the delicate tactfulness with which this audience behaved in view of the shameful disfigurement that Glinka's unfortunate opera was subjected to, just as I had expected. It was evident that the people who came to the theatre to hear Ruslan had also prepared themselves for the worst, expecting a production that would merely be a lamentable parody of the opera.

It was as if everyone had agreed beforehand, out of respect for the music of genius created by our best Russian composer, patiently and forbearingly to put up with all the disgraceful things which, though here they are a part of daily life, would be quite unthinkable on any other stage, in any other place you might care to name on the globe. On the other hand, whenever this production gave the slightest occasion to feel satisfied, the audience would express its approval with enthusiastic applause and curtain-calls for the singers. Of these, the following received the greatest share of ovations: the beneficiary of the performance, whose singing was, as always, impeccably clear, graceful, and enriched by her great musicality; Madame Kadmina [2], who achieved a great success with her artistically inspired interpretation of her two arias; and Mr Dodonov, who, in spite of a little bit of hoarseness which made itself felt in his voice that evening, nevertheless gave a splendid performance in the scene between Finn and Ruslan. A veritable furore was provoked by the small duet between Finn and Ratmir, which was sung by Madame Kadmina and Mr Dodonov with remarkable sensitivity and artistic feeling.

As for the other soloists, the chorus and the orchestra, and the staging as such, I would rather draw a veil over these. Indeed, what point can there possibly be in exposing to ridicule these hapless, utterly innocent singers, chorus members, ballet-masters and ballerinas, stage-managers, directors, and other employees of the theatre administration who are involved, with varying degrees of success, in the opera productions of our theatre? Each and everyone of them works to the best of his or her abilities and competence. They are all full of the best intentions and are quite willing to do their bit for the overall success of performances, hoping that they will be enjoyed by audiences.

Are they in any way to blame for the fact that our opera-house is completely governed by a spirit of the most brazen exploitation of the public, as well as of the theatre's staff and resources? This is a principle which has absolutely nothing in common with artistic goals, the realization of which is, strictly speaking, the raison d'être of opera-houses and their complex management structures in any civilized place of the world. If there is anyone who ought to be attacked, who deserves to be castigated with public censure in the press, then that is surely those who find it so convenient for themselves and for their ends to maintain this lamentable status quo in our theatre.

P. Tchaikovsky.

Notes and References

  1. Entitled '"Ruslan and Ljudmila" at the Bol'šoi Theatre' in ČW.
  2. See TH 280 for more information on the mezzo-soprano and actress Yevlaliya Kadmina (1853–1881), whom Tchaikovsky admired greatly.