St Petersburg, Concert Hall


Igor Stravinsky

Les Noces russian choreographic scenes with singing and music (сoncert performance)
Soloists: Mlada Khudoley (soprano), Olga Savova (мezzo-soprano), Alexander Timchenko (tenor), Andrei Serov (bass)
Piano solos: Svetlana Smolina, Yulia Zaichkina, Alexander Mogilevsky, Maxim Mogilevsky

The cantata Le Roi des étoiles to words by Konstantin Dmitriyevich Balmont

Oedipus Rex opera-oratorio (сoncert performance)
Speaker: Alexei Emelianiov, Oedipus: Alexander Timchenko, Greon: Ilya Bannik, Jocasta: Nadezhda Serdyuk, Tiresias: Mikhail Petrenko

Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko

“I date the start of work on Oedipus Rex to September 1925, but at least five years before that I felt the need to compose a large-scale dramatic work. Returning at the time from Venice to Nice in September, I stopped in Genoa to refresh my memories of the town, where in 1911 I celebrated my fifth wedding anniversary. It was here in a kiosk selling books that I found a volume about the life of Francis of Assisi, which I bought and read that very evening. It is due to this reading that I owe the birth of the idea, albeit in ill-defined forms, that had often appeared to me ever since I had become déraciné. The idea was that the text used in the music could acquire monumental status by means, so to speak, of reverse translation, from the secular to the sacred...
“The decision to create a work after the tragedy by Sophocles followed soon after my return to Nice, and the choice was made. I needed a subject that was all-human or, at the very least, well known enough so as not to need a detailed interpretation. I wished to leave the piece as such in the background, thinking that in this way I could extract its dramatic essence and liberate myself in order to be more focussed on the purely musical dramatisation...
“My second idea was that the actors should be contoured and stand above – each of them raised up behind the chorus. But “actors” is the wrong word. No-one here is “acting”, the only one who moves at all is the narrator, and then only to underline his own unique status from that of the other characters on stage. Oedipus Rex may or may not be considered as an opera because of its musical content, but it is certainly not operatic in terms of movement.”
Igor Stravinsky


Schoenberg wrote of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex that “Here everything is inside out: an unusual piece of theatre, an unusual production, an unusual denouement, unusual vocal writing, an unusual vertical, unusual counterpoint and unusual instrumentation.” These words of the musician – the founder of the most radical school of composition of its time – encompassed a widely held view of the work. Things truly were not as they appeared to be. Stravinsky, for whom turning everything upside down became his principal creative method, created an opus where the “upside down” was the idea of an operatic work in itself. For centuries, composers – Stravinsky’s predecessors – had despaired at the laws of the genre, and developed styles and forms that allowed opera to emerge from the “mould” of an ancient tragedy (as its inventors Peri and Caccini had envisioned it in the late 16th century) and become a genuine musical drama. Stravinsky takes the reverse path: the broadly accepted attributes of drama (meaning the protagonists, their relationships and the subject) serve as a means of playing with the forms, styles and laws themselves of the genre. For his material, he selected 17th century opera (largely Handel) and Verdi.
Oedipus Rex is “an opera about opera”, “a play about a play”, but that’s not where it ends. Returning to ancient tragedy, Stravinsky returns to the fundamental problem of the thinkers of the ancient world – the problem of Fate. And thanks to this ambiguous viewpoint, it towers mightily in all its glory.
Yekaterina Yusupova


Igor Stravinsky
Les Noces (1914-1923)

Les Noces, with the second title “Russian choreographic scenes with singing and music” is a unique mix of genres, to a great extent laying out the individual features of Stravinsky’s theatre. The composer admitted that he got the idea for the work from reading collections of “two guardians of the Russian language and soul” – Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasiev and Pyotr Vasilievich Kireyevsky: “I wanted to retain something along the lines of a pagan ceremony, at my own discretion using ritualistic elements of the ages taken from Russian folk customs.”
This musical and theatrical opus has a distinctly conventional, playful character. The action unfolds simultaneously on various levels and during four stages of a ritual (the un-plaiting of the braids, the parental blessing of the young couple, the ransom of the bride, the wedding banquet), portraying all the different views of the events taking place. After a lengthy search, an unusual solution for the instrumental role was found: the “super-personal” meaning of what is depicted calls out to augment the ensemble of four grand pianos and the large percussion section.


The cantata Le Roi des étoiles for male chorus and orchestra, written at the same time as three famous “Russian” ballets – The Firebird, Pétrouchka and Le Sacre du printemps – is one of Stravinsky’s most enigmatic and rarely performed works.
For his literary source, the composer used the symbolist poem The King of the Stars by Konstantin Balmont, which had drawn him with the particular nature of its rhythm and the capriciousness of its sonority. Bleak images of the Apocalypse were embodied by Balmont in a series of expressive comparisons and metaphors. Stravinsky conveyed an image of “eternity” by using rhythmical, triumphal choral scansion. Essentially avoiding the use of the bass instrument section, the composer achieved the effect of sound “evaporating in the air”. In the middle section of the work, set to Christ’s words, the orchestration condenses and creates the impression of a powerful voice descending “from on high”.
The cantata Le Roi des étoiles, dedicated to Claude Debussy whom Stravinsky met in Paris in 1910, was to prove a unique “tribute” to the master of French musical impressionism.
Nadezhda Kulygina

Age category 6+

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