The Historic Folklore of Prince Igor

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

One usually doesnt think of Russia when one thinks of opera yet there have been a few Russian composers that have produced quite notable operas. One such composer is Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (1833 1887). Borodin was a Russian romantic composer.

As a boy he was educated in the sciences and was given piano lessons. He pursued a career in chemistry. Music remained a secondary vocation for Borodin outside of his main career as a chemist and physician.

In 1868, Borodin became distracted from his work by his opera Prince Igor, which by some seems to be his most significant work and one of the most important historical Russian operas. It contains the Polovtsian Dances, often performed as a stand-alone concert work forming what is probably Borodin's best known composition.

'Prince Igor' is one of those operas that are not often performed because its parts are greater than its sum. Composed intermittently over 18 years, left unfinished and subsequently finished by Borodins surviving colleagues Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov, this intriguing piece of Russian history resembles a splendid vintage folk adventure that complements the music, singers and dancers.

The libretto of the opera is basically a stylized, mlange of battles experienced by 12th-century Russians under siege by Oriental chieftains, coupled with court intrigue and romance. Prince Igor, his family and his court become flesh-and-blood photographic images. They become czarist ghosts stepping out from the turn-of-the-century newsreels, while Khan and his Polovstian warriors are as ancient and exotic as the story itself.

Borodin's score was used in 1953 in Broadway's "Kismet," perhaps most notably in the song, "Stranger in Paradise. In 1954, Borodin was posthumously awarded a Tony Award for this show.

Borodin's music is a feast for the ears full of romantic charm and enticing melodies, which envelope and transports the listener to the Russia of old, with its onion-domed churches, richly decorated icons, and Mongolian invasions. His music exudes an undeniable Russian flavor especially vigorous and strikingly passionate with its unusual exotic harmonies. But dont take my word for it, listen and judge for yourself.

Carmen Ileana Roman writes a regular column for

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