Lyudmila: Aigul Khismatullina
Ruslan: Alexey Kulagin
Ratmir: Yekaterina Krapivina
Farlaf: Pavel Shmulevich
Gorislava: Inara Kozlovskaya
Finn: Oleg Videman
Bayan: Yevgeny Akimov
World premiere: 27 November 1842, Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre, Imperial Russian Opera Company
Premiere of this production: 2 May 1994
Running time: 4 hours
The performance has three intervals
Decorations are restored from the 1904 version of the performance by Alexander Golovin and Konstantin Korovin
Choreography by Michel Fokine, 1917 production
Stage Director: Lotfi Mansouri
Set Design: Thierry Bosquet
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Yegor Kartashov
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov
At the court of Svetozar, Prince of Kiev, celebrations are in progress before the marriage of his daughter, Lyudmila, to Ruslan, a warrior. The Bayan (a minstrel) sings of the trials in store for Ruslan, though he predicts the victory of true love. Nostalgically, Lyudmila bids farewell to her parent’s home, and consoles her unsuccessful suitors, the eastern prince Ratmir and the Varangian warrior Farlaf. Suddenly all darkens: when light is restored, Lyudmila has vanished.
Svetozar promises her hand and half his kingdom to the one who rescues her.
In his cave, Finn, a good magician, reveals to Ruslan that Lyudmila’s abductor is the dwarf Chernomor (whose strength lies in his enormously long beard) and warns Ruslan against the evil enchantress Naina. The scene changes to a deserted place where Naina instructs a very frightened Farlaf to wait at home; she will help him defeat Ruslan and gain Lyudmila. Finally on a deserted battlefield Ruslan reaffirms hisresolve, then defeats a gigantic head and draws a sword from beneath; the head explains he is Chernomor’s brother and one of his victims, and that the sword’s magic can defeat the dwarf.
In Naina’s enchanted palace her maidens are directing their allure at a travel-weary Ratmir, to the distress of his slave, Gorislava, who loves him.
Ruslan appears and is smitten with Gorislava, but Finn intervenes and breaks the seductive spell, uniting Ratmir and Gorislava, and all set out to rescue Lyudmila.
Confined in Chernomor’s enchanted garden, Lyudmila voices her despair and defiance, rejecting her captor’s blandishments. At Ruslan’s approach Chernomor casts a spell over her and goes out to fight with Ruslan. Chernomor’s followers observe the offstage encounter, in which Ruslan catches hold of Chernomor’s beard, then cuts it off. Triumphantly he returns onstage with it, but is in despair when he finds Lyudmila in an enchanted sleep. He decides to take her back to Kiev.
Ratmir sings of his love for Gorislava. Farlaf abducts Lyudmila and speeds to Kiev.
Meanwhile Finn gives Ratmir a magic ring that will waken Lyudmila. In Kiev Farlaf cannot rouse her but when Ruslan arrives with Ratmir he breaks the spell with the aid of the ring. General rejoicing.
Vladimir Odoyevsky called the opera Ruslan and Lyudmila a magnificent flower that had grown in Russian musical soil. Glinka’s score is laden with musical treats just like the tables at the princely feast in Act I. the composer’s imagination, given flight by the genius of Pushkin, came up with one superb melody after another, it created hitherto unknown chords and it suggested the original decisions as to the orchestration. Fully compensating for the losses that inevitably accompanied the literary masterpiece’s transformation into an opera libretto, Glinka produced an epic and magical fairytale opera about the fearless Ruslan and his faithful bride Lyudmila, about trials and temptations and about the battle between Light and Darkness. the opera’s structure is absolutely monumental: in the outer acts there are the immense crowd scenes of Kiev, while between them is a musical “novel-and-journey”, a series of adventures of the three claimants to the hand of the Prince’s daughter: a mighty Russian bogatyr, a dreamy Khazar prince and a boastful Varangian knight. Glinka wrote all of the protagonists with unusual clarity, as he did the destinations to which their laborious paths led them, be these the cave of the magician Finn, a battlefield strewn with bones, the palace of the perfidious Naina or Chernomor’s enchanted gardens. Glinka’s flower was to leave numerous seeds in its wake after blossoming – musical innovations and ideas from which the greatest works in the Russian composition school were subsequently to grow.
Odoyevsky’s words about Ruslan and Lyudmila may also be taken to refer to this production of the opera at the Mariinsky Theatre. Belgian Thierry Bosquet worked for months in the theatre’s artistic workshops, and he personally sourced fabrics for the costumes from shops across the globe, trying, ninety years later, to recreate the mind-boggling colours and ornamentation of the legendary 1904 production. Back then, in what was the hundred-year anniversary of Glinka, the designs for Ruslan were supervised by Konstantin Korovin and Alexander Golovin. the luscious Russo-Byzantine art nouveau of their set designs amazes even today, both as a whole and in its details, examining which is a joy in and of itself. the opera’s scenes follow one after another, just like the pages of some gigantic illustrated book of fairytales. the dances deserve special mention; these recreate another anniversary production, that of 1917, when the Mariinsky Theatre was commemorating seventy-five years since the first performance of Ruslan and Lyudmila. That was staged using the familiar sets, though with new dances choreographed by Michel Fokine. Pushkin’s humour, having eluded the opera’s librettists, was restored in the dances and processions staged by Fokine, particularly in the culminating March of Chernomor.
In 2021 Ruslan was moved to the new stage of the Mariinsky Theatre; its lighting has been revived and the cast has been refreshed. This production is not merely a unique museum exhibit, not just a historic reconstruction, but also a living artistic organism with indefatigable energy and unfading beauty. Khristina Batyushina
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