Sadko

PREMIERE

SADKO

Russian epic opera in seven scenes
Libretto by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov and Vladimir Belsky

Stage Director
 Dmitry Bertman
Music Director and Conductor 
 People's Artist of Russia Vladimir Ponkin
Set and Costume Designers 
 Igor Nezhny  and Tatiana Tulubieva
Premiere: November 14, 2015
Language of performance: Russian

HISTORY

In summer 1867 N. Rimski-Korsakov composed a musical tableau “Sadko” for orchestra and soon it was successfully performed. The plot was ideal exactly for him as he was a naval officer who returned from his cruising not long ago. The play is opened by a melodic figure of three notes, the same as the first act of “Rogneda” by A. Serov. But an ordinary expression was turned by Rimski-Korsakov into a real sea symbol, perpetually moving. He did it the way, which surprised even Serov himself: “This music really transfers us into the sea depth…”

The myth about the Volkhov River is also close to Rimski-Korsakov. In his childhood he crossed the Volkhov River along the way from his parent’s house in Tikhvin to the Sea Cadet Corps in Saint-Petersburg.

In 1892 Rimski-Korsakov edited his musical tableau: “I reworked the orchestration of my “Sadko”. This reworking has put the end to my past scores”. But the past required to be continued, and the plot grew into an original opera-bylina (Russian epic opera). The composer himself said best about it: “The content of opera-bylina “Sadko” is mainly borrowed from different variants of the epic poem “Sadko, the Rich Guest” (collections of Kirsha Danilov, Rybnikov and others) connected with the fairy tale about the Sea King and Vasilisa the Wise (Afanasief, Russian Fairy Tales), while some details are from the verse of Pigeon Book, as well as the bylina “Terenti the Guest” and other sources”. Rimski-Korsakov perceived epic poems not as a dead “literary memorial”, with which he got acquainted when looking through a book. He had luck to listen to the story-tellers — singers of the Russian epos, bearers of ancient tradition, that’s why the  language of the epic poems was alive for the composer. “Many speeches as well as the descriptions of decorations and stage details are fully borrowed from different epic poems, songs, spells, lamentations etc.” — Rimski-Korsakov said. Indeed, the language of the libretto is stylized, not all the words and expressions are clear today. As the author had a creative approach to the original material, some expressions were also unclear even for his contemporaries, and he saw proper to give the explanations: “Bratchina is a group of people jointly contributed to a feast in ancient Novgorod. Nastoyatel (sometimes called Novgorod Prince in the epic poem) is apparently a governor of the city”. Other words were not explained by Rimski-Korsakov. We’ll do it for him moving in sequence from the first scene to the seventh:

To tell in the old days manner is to sing an epic poem or historical song; sur Volzhanin is an honest youth from Volga; beads-Ships are dark-grey or brownish black ships; grain pearl is a big and even pearl; costly damast is a figured silk fabric; a sea cook is apparently from the jocose curse “a son of a sea cook”; guselki yarovchaty is the gusli (harp) made of sycamore, i.e. brought from the south of Rus; stick tree is cane; globeflower sisters are beautiful sisters, ample and proud; sweet-scented rejuvenator is lily-of-the-valley; golden fish is a magic fish; the soup made from it returns youth; loud-voiced trumpets are roaring trumpets.

The premiere of “Sadko” took place on 7 January 1898 (O. S. 26 December 1897) on the stage of the Mamontov’s Private Russian Opera in Moscow. 

SUMMARY

Scene 1
The Novgorod people are feasting and rejoicing their freedom. A gusli player Sadko has been bidden to sing about the wealth of the city and the beauty of the merchants’ wives, but instead he is singing about his dream: about the seas, which are far away from the Novgorod lands and beyond the reach of the Novgorod people, because no river flows from Lake Ilmen into a sea. That’s why Sadko is being dismissed from the feast.

Scene 2
Having left the people, Sadko is singing for the oak forest, for the cane, for Lake Ilmen. The daughters of the Sea King have heard him and are stepping out on the shore. The youngest one, Princess Volkhova knows that Sadko is her betrothed, and she presents him with the golden fishes which will help him reach the far away seas.

Scene 3
The young Sadko’s wife Lyubava Buslaevna has been vainly waiting for her husband all the night long. On his return he is telling her, how the merchants laughed at his dream. But now, minding the golden fishes, the gusli player will make a bet - his head against all the Novgorod goods, that his dream is real. Lyubava Buslaevna is praying for her husband’s salvation.

Scene 4
There is the Novgorod market. Sadko declares the miracle: there are golden fishes in Lake Ilmen. He makes a bet and wins it. Now Sadko is rich. He asks the foreign guests to tell about their lands in order to choose his destination. Sadko is sailing away with his druzhina. Lyubava Buslaevna is in despair.

Scene 5
Sadko has been safely sailing over the seas and trading prosperously for twelve years. The Sea King demands the gusli player to come to him. 

Scene 6
Sadko is taken into the underwater kingdom. The Sea King likes his songs and agrees to bestow the Princess Volkhova in marriage with him. The festive marriage is starting under water, while the storm is breaking out afloat. Suddenly a warrior in the likeness of a wandering minstrel appears and declares: this is the end of the Sea King’s power, Volkhova will be sent to land to be a river, while Sadko will be the singer of his mother-city Novgorod.

Scene 7
Sadko is waking up ashore. Volkhova has become the river, which flows from Lake Ilmen into Lake Ladoga. Lyubava Buslaevna was waiting for Sadko all this time and has now seen him twelve years later. The Novgorod people are rejoicing the sea and the Volkhov river. 

 

"Sadko" by Ilya Repin, 1876.

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