This photo of Stravinsky with his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov – that’s them on the far left (as if you hadn’t guessed!) – reminds us of the composer’s roots in the Russian nationalist school. But one of the greatest of Stravinsky’s many talents was his ability to re-invent himself; a talent well suited to the rapid change of the twentieth century.
This adaptive skill can be both heard and seen in his stage works (the term ‘opera’ isn’t quite right for some of them). There’s The Nightingale which begins as Rimsky-Korsakov and ends as post Rite of Spring; then there’s Renard, part of the ‘primitive’ Russian folk influenced period that follows The Rite (Les Noces, L’Histoire du soldat for instance); next it’s neo-classicism culminating with Auden and Kallman’s (Hogarth is in there somewhere, too) The Rake’s Progress; and, finally, the not-quite-Schönbergian serialist of The Flood.
If this all sounds like someone slavishly following the trends of the time, it’s fair to point out that it was – with the exception of serialism – Stravinsky who actually created these fashions, making him one of the most influential figures of twentieth century music.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of Stravinsky ‘opera’ to be found online; and, rather than trying your patience by inundating you with examples, I’ve limited myself to performances of his two earliest forays into the genre both of which well illustrate the composer’s self transformational abilities.
An amazing production of The Nightingale from the festival in Aix-en-Provence using a combination of puppets and singers. Only German subtitles, I’m afraid, but the story isn’t too complex (see libretto below), it’s well worth the watching!
If you want to see the score and the English text (and have the visual acuity of an eagle!) this is the version for you:
0:00: Act I
17:25 Act II
32:38 Act III
… and, finally, to simply follow the words, here (courtesy of Naxos) is the Russian/English libretto (starts at page 11):
Another fascinating production, this time of Renard. It has to be viewed on YouTube (sorry!) and starts here.
… and, again, a version for score/libretto followers; though as above, you’ll find super-human eyesight useful plus, in this case, the ability to read Russian, French or German. Hmm…