Lyle K. Neff

The operas of Nikolai Andreevich Rimskii-Korsakov (1844-1908), along with those of his predecessor Glinka (1804-1857) and his contemporary Chaikovskii (1840-1893), form the foundation of native classic opera repertory in Russia. That all three composers turned to Pushkin as an inspiration for one or more of their stage works was inevitable, Rimskii-Korsakov being the last to do so. As with Glinka and Chaikovskii, Rimskii-Korsakov's three Pushkin-based works remain standards in the Russian repertory. Furthermore, his Mozart and Salieri (1897) seems to have good standing in the west, perhaps due to its brevity, non-Russian subject matter, and present-day association with Peter Schaffer's play and motion picture, Amadeus. The Golden Cockerel (1906-1907), no doubt helped into western venues by Diagilev's ballet-styled production, has easily become more of a widespread standard than Rimskii-Korsakov's other Pushkin opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899-1900), which itself nevertheless gained considerable European theatrical exposure in the 1920s and '30s. This apparent repertorial lag is regrettable, because, among all three of these operas, Tsar Saltan has the most to please any audience. To borrow from Mirksy's (1926: 97) evaluation of Pushkin's original poem, Rimskii-Korsakov's opera "has the same appeal for a child of six and for the most sophisticated poetry reader of sixty. It requires no understanding; its reception is immediate, direct, unquestionable."


Neff, Lyle K. "The Tale of Tsar Saltan: A Centenary Appreciation of Rimskii-Korsakov's Second Pushkin Opera." Pushkin Review 2 (1999), 89-133.