It’s regrettable that of Rimsky-Korsakov’s 15 or so operas only two tiny excerpts (The Flight of the Bumble Bee from The Tale of Tsar Saltan and The Song of the Indian Guest from Sadko) have become well known in the West. Regrettable because, by common assent, these operas contain several examples of the composer’s finest work.
After Aleksandr Pushkin (who penned the original narratives of Ruslan & Lyudmila, Boris Godunov, The Stone Guest, Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, Mozart and Salieri etc.), the name of Nicolai Gogol must figure large in a list of Russian/Ukrainian authors who have supplied the story lines of operas by their musical compatriots. Mussorgsky’s unfinished Sorochyntsi Fair is one such, based on a short story of the same name from Gogol’s early collection, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka; and, from the same source, come Rimsky-Korsakov’s two folk operas May Night and Christmas Eve (the latter was also used as the basis of Tchaikovsky’s Vakula the Smith).
Apart from these literary sources, Rimsky-Korsakov relied on history, legend and fairy tale for his plots; which, in part maybe, explains – since the stories aren’t a familiar part of our Western European folk heritage – their failure to capture our imagination.
May Night combines comic, village elements with the supernatural in the form of rusalki (water spirits):
00:00:00: Overture (Orchestra)
00:07:38 Act 1: No.1: Round of the Millet
00:11:05 Act 1: No.2: Serenade (Levko)
00:14:19 Act 1: No.3: Duet (Levko/Hanna)
00:25:42 Act 1: No.4: Tale (Levko)
00:32:16 Act 1: No.5: Recitative and Spring-Song
00:35:30 Act 1: No.6: Hopak Scene (Kalenik/Girls)
00:41:47 Act 1: No.7: Trio (Mayor/Levko/Hanna)
00:49:05 Act 1: No.8: Recitative and Song about the Mayor
00:52:45 Act 2: Scene 1: No.9: Trio
00:56:23 Act 2: Scene 1: No.10: Scene with Kalenik and the Distiller’s Tale
01:03:09 Act 2: Scene 1: No.11: Song about the Mayor, Scene and Trio beginning
01:05:04 Act 2: Scene 1: No.11: Song about the Mayor, Scene and Trio conclusion
01:12:07 Act 2: Scene 2: No.12: Finale
01:18:28 Act 3: Scene 2: No.13: Scene of the Rusalki
01:51:41 Act 3: Scene 2: No.14: Scene and Ritual Songs
01:57:57 Act 3: Scene 2: No.15: Final
Vocal score (Russian, German, French)
Sadko: Rimsky-Korsakov based the music of this opera in seven scenes on a earlier tone poem on the same subject.
Sadko is a bard, a gusli (zither) player who sets out in pursuit of fame and fortune, a quest in which – with the help of the Princess of the Sea – he succeeds .
Vocal score (Russian)