Russian 674 (cross-listed with Music 674)

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Russian 674

(cross-listed with Music 674)

Russian Opera: Meanings and Identities

Class meetings: lectures and discussions; 1.5-hr. classes twice a week
Instructors: Margarita Mazo (School of Music) and Alexander Burry (Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Course Description

For over two hundred years, opera has played a central role in Russian cultural life. By shaping and responding to various cultural, social, and political changes, it has served as a space for the construction and negotiation of individual and national identity. This course will explore some of the major Russian operas from the 1830s-1930s within their socio-cultural contexts, while examining their reception history up to the present day. The operas of Glinka, Musorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and other composers, while serving as a stylistic and aesthetic yard stick of Russian music, raise various questions: How do various meanings of a given opera constructed musically and how do they change? How does a given opera reflect the ideological and political situation of its time? How does it reveal the aesthetic sensibilities and aspirations of the composers, their listeners, and society at large? To what extent do shifts in opera reception history reflect, and at the same time shape the aesthetic faculties and social changes in Russia? How do composers transform literary texts into libretti, and what interactions can be found between literature and music? What impact do staging, costumes, and other production elements have on creating meaning in a particular opera? How has opera’s function as breeding ground for social and cultural values changed in post-Soviet times?


-- to understand Russian operatic tradition, and its impact on various aspects of individual and collective identities

-- to analyze individual operas (music, libretto, staging, reception)

-- to study critical viewpoints on Russian music, literature, and culture

-- to understand how Russian history, culture, politics shape and are shaped by opera

The class will consist of a combination of lecture and discussion. Students must attend each class and participate actively in every class discussion. Readings and listening will be assigned each week, and must be prepared on time for each class.


Participation (10%), Oral presentations (20%), Midterm (30%), Research Paper (40%)

Grading Breakdown

A 95 +; A- 90-94; B+ 87-89; B 83-86; B- 80-82; C+ 77-79; C 73-76; C- 70-72; D 60-69; F 59-.

Readings and Materials

All listening assignments are on reserve at the Music Library in Sullivant Hall. The reading assignments are in a coursepack, which will be available for purchase at Foreign Language Publications (198 Hagerty Hall).

Academic Misconduct

It is the responsibility of the Committee on Academic Misconduct to investigate or establish

procedures for the investigation of all reported cases of student academic misconduct. The term

“academic misconduct” includes all forms of student academic misconduct wherever committed;

illustrated by, but not limited to, cases of plagiarism and dishonest practices in connection with

examinations. Instructors shall report all instances of alleged academic misconduct to the

committee (Faculty Rule 3335-5-487). For additional information, see the Code of Student

Conduct (

Disability Services

Students with disabilities that have been certified by the Office for Disability Services will be appropriately accommodated, and should inform the instructor as soon as possible of their needs. The Office for Disability Services is located in 150 Pomerene Hall, 1760 Neil Avenue; telephone 292-3307, TDD 292-0901;

Required reading:
Emerson, Caryl: Boris Godunov: Transpositions of a Russian Theme, Bloomington: Indiana

UP, 1986.

Leskov, Nikolai, “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District” (any edition)

Maes, Francis. A History of Russian Music from “Kamarinskaya” to “Babi Yar”. Tr. by Arnold

and Erica Pomerans. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.

Pushkin, Alexander: Boris Godunov (any editions)

_______. “The Queen of Spades” (any editions)

Taruskin, Richard, Defining Russia Musically. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997.

Reference Works:

The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997

Grove Music Online

Schedule of Classes

Week 1

Introduction to the course goals and the issues to be debated. Why opera? Why opera and identity? How is the meaning of opera constructed and affected by historical and cultural change? Opera as synthesis of the arts. Opera and literature: transpositions and genres. Music and drama. The functions of stage action, décor, costume, ballet, music, and libretto. Materials: reading, listening, viewing.

Week 2

Mikhail Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, 1836. The Time of Troubles, Russian-Polish conflict. Russian culture and society in the early nineteenth century, Pushkin. Building the first Russia musical drama, how drama is carried through music. What made it the national opera? The perceived roles of Glinka as the founder of Russian national music. Reception history as cultural process and part of identity construction. The libretti: Rozen’s and Gorodetsky’s. The latest production. Reception history as cultural process and part of identity construction. Russian orientalism. Snippets from Ruslan and Liudmila, Ratmir as effeminate oriental male.

Week 3

Slavophiles and Westernizers. Important social, cultural and artistic issues in the 1850s-60s. Literary Realism: Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. Current phase of Russian nationalism. The Mighty Five and Dargomïzhsky. The debates between the “westernizers” and “nationalists” in music: Rubinstein’s Conservatory and Balakirev’s Free Musical Society.

Week 4

A different approach to operatic libretto as “faithful” to the original text: Dargomïzhsky’s The Stone Guest, Musorgsky’s The Marriage, and Shostakovich’s The Nose.

Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov, 1869-1874. Sources: The Boris Godunov legend, Pushkin’s historical drama and its transpositions. Populism in 1870s Russian society.

Week 5

Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov: different versions of the opera. Musical development of the main characters. Musorgsky as a musical innovator. Music and speech: the new melody. Opera as drama. The role of chorus and musical structure in the construction of the drama. Review and Midterm (both for undergraduates and graduates).

Week 6

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snow Maiden & Le Coq d’or, and Russian opera-fairytale. Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s verse tale with songs and its transposition. Pushkin’s Le Coq and transposition. Diaghilev’s production 1914. Rimsky-Korsakov and the transition to the Silver Age and modernism. Complexity of Rimsky-Korsakov’s roles within and outside of the Mighty Five. Reception history as cultural process and part of identity construction.

Week 7

1870-1890s: Social, cultural and artistic issues. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades and Russian lyrico-psychological opera. Pushkin, gambling, and the aristocracy. The “fantastic” in literature. Tchaikovsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, and Western composers. Pushkin’s novella and its transposition.

Week 8

Queen of Spades as anticipation of Russian Symbolism? Instrumental and vocal methods in the opera. The roles of leitmotifs; musical characterizations. Reception history as cultural process and part of identity construction.

Week 9

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, 1934, and Katerina Izmailova, 1971. The Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinist Russia. Socialist Realism in the Arts. Shostakovich and the political pressures of the time. Leskov’s story, the “woman question” of the 1860s, and its transposition. Intertextuality and irony in music. An opera without a positive hero or heroine? Shostakovich’s operatic innovations. Reception history as cultural process and part of identity construction.

Week 10

Student presentations. Final Discussion. Paper due.

Selected Bibliography

Asaf'ev, B. Russian Music from the Beginning of the 19th Century, trans. by Swan, A. Ann

Arbor, Michigan: U of Illinois P, 1953

Billington, J. The Icon and the Axe (any edition)

Briggs, A.D.P. Alexander Pushkin. A Critical Study. Bristol: Bristol University Press, 1991.

Brown, Malcolm, ed. Musorgsky: In Memoriam 1881-1981. Bloomington, IN: UMI Research

Press, 1982.

Campbell, Stuart, ed., tr. Russians on Russian Music. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994,


Emerson, Caryl and Robert Oldani. Modest Musorsky & Boris Godunov: Myths, Realities,

Reconsiderations. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 1994.

Evdokimova, Svetlana. Pushkin’s Historical Imagination, New Haven: Yale UP, 1999.

Kearney, L, ed. Tchaikovsky and His World. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999

Layton, Susan, Russian Literature and Empire: Conquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to

Tolstoy. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1994.

Maes, Francis. A History of Russian Music from Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar. Transl. by Arnold

and Erica Pomerans. Berkeley & Los Angeles: U of California P, 1996

McQuere, Gordon D., Russian Theoretial Thought in Music, ed. McQuere, UMI Research Press,

Michigan 1983

Maksimkov, Leonid. Sumbur vmesto muzyki. Stalinskaia kul’turnaia revoliutsiia 1936-1938.

Moscow: “Iuridicheskaia kniga”, 1997. (For those who read Russian)

Malia, Martin E. Russia under Western Eyes. From the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin

Mausoleum. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1999.

Poznansky, A. Tchaikovsky. The Quest for the Inner Man. New York: Schirmer Books, 1991

-------, ed. Tchaikovsky Through Other Eyes. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1999

Ridenour, R. Nationalism, Modernism, and Personal Rivalry in 19th-Century Russia.

Bloomington, UMI Research Press, 1988.

Seaman, G. History of Russian Music, vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1967.

St­asov, V. Essays on Music, tr. Florence Jones. N.Y.: n. p., 1967.

Stavr­ou, T. Art and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Russia. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.

Swan, A. Russian Music and Its Sources in Chant and Folksong. London: John Baker, 1973.

Taruskin, R. Opera and Drama in Russia as Preached and Practiced in the 1860s. Ann Arbor:

UMI Press, 1981.

-------. Musorgsky. Eight Essays and an Epilogue. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.

_____. Defining Russia Musically. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997.

Walicki, Andrzej. A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism,

Stanford: Stanford UP, 1979.

Wiley, R. Tchaikovsky’s Ballets. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1985

Woodward, Kathryn, ed., Identity and Difference. London: Sage Publications Ltd., 1997).

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