It is the people who create the music,
we musicians only arrange it.
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
Received opinion is that music that sounds distinctively ‘Russian’ starts with the works of Mikhail Glinka. And amongst the most famous of those works there are two operas: Ivan Susanin (aka A Life for the Tsar) and Ruslan & Lyudmila.
Ivan Susanin tells of a Russian peasant who sacrifices his life to save the first of the Romanov tsars from assassination by a group of Polish soldiers…
Fyodor Shalyapin as Susanin
… while Ruslan & Lyudmila, based on a fairy story by Pushkin, recounts the adventures of the Kievan knight Ruslan as he saves his bride-to-be Lyudmila from the machinations of the evil wizard Chernomor.
Fyodor Shalyapin (again) as Ruslan’s rival, the comic knight, Farlaf
This is the opening of the Mariinsky production of Ruslan. Unfortunately the sub-titles are in Dutch but, if you just want to dip in to the opera, this extract will give you a good general idea.
… for those of you who’d like to examine the work in more detail, the links below will take you to the same production but with English subtitles. Sadly, Opera 4all (who uploaded the production) have restricted it’s use solely to YouTube, so I can’t embed it on this site. Apologies.
Ruslan and Lyudmila: Acts 1 – 3
Ruslan and Lyudmila: Acts 4 & 5
Act 1; Act 2; Act 3; Act 4; Act 5