|The Golden Cockerel|
|Opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov|
Ivan Bilibin's 1909 stage set design for Act 2: The Tsardom of Tsar Dadon, Town Square
Zolotoy petushok (? ?)
|Other title||Le coq d'or|
|Based on||Pushkin's "The Tale of the Golden Cockerel" (1834)|
7 October 1909
Solodovnikov Theatre , Moscow, Russia
The Golden Cockerel (Russian: ? ?, Zolotoy petushok) is an opera in three acts, with short prologue and even shorter epilogue, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Its libretto written by Vladimir Belsky derives from Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel. The opera was completed in 1907 and premiered in 1909 in Moscow, after the composer's death. Outside Russia it has often been performed in French as Le coq d'or.
Rimsky-Korsakov had considered his previous opera, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (1907) to be his final artistic statement in the medium, and, indeed, this work has been called a "summation of the nationalistic operatic tradition of Glinka and The Five." However the political situation in Russia at the time inspired him to take up the pen to compose a "razor-sharp satire of the autocracy, of Russian imperialism, and of the Russo-Japanese war." Also, Rimsky-Korsakov's previous works inspired by Alexander Pushkin's poems, especially Tsar Saltan, had proved to be very successful.
The work on The Golden Cockerel was started in 1906 and finished by September 1907. On February two symphonies were performed in Saint Petersburg. By the end of the month the director of Imperial Theatres Vladimir Telyakovskiy passed it to the censorship agency in order to get an approval for the Bolshoi Theatre. It was returned unedited, yet suddenly taken back the next day. This time many changes were requested to be made to the libretto as well as the original Pushkin's text. Rimsky-Korsakov suspected someone's denunciation and resisted any changes. He continued the work on orchestration while fighting with progressive illness. On June Telyakovskiy informed him that the Moscow Governor-General Sergei Gershelman was highly against the opera. In his last letter Rimsky-Korsakov asked his friend and music publisher Boris Jurgenson to contact Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi and suggest him to stage The Golden Cockerel in Paris. He died two days later and thus never witnessed the premiere of his last opera.
The premiere took place on 7 October (O.S. 24 September) 1909, at Moscow's Solodovnikov Theatre in a performance by the Zimin Opera. Emil Cooper conducted; set designs were by Ivan Bilibin. The opera was given at the city's Bolshoi Theatre a month later, on 6 November, conducted by Vyacheslav Suk and with set designs by Konstantin Korovin. London and Paris premieres occurred in 1914; in Paris it was staged at the Palais Garnier by the Ballets Russes as an opera-ballet, choreographed and directed by Michel Fokine with set and costume designs by Natalia Goncharova. The United States premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera House on 6 March 1918, with Marie Sundelius in the title role, Adamo Didur and Maria Barrientos in the actual leads, and Pierre Monteux conducting.
The Met performed the work regularly through 1945. All Met performances before World War II were sung in French; during the work's final season in the Met repertory, the Golden Cockerel was sung in English. The English translators were Antal Doráti and James Gibson. The work has not been performed at the Met since the war, but it was staged at neighboring New York City Opera from 1967 to 1971, always in English, with Beverly Sills singing the Tsaritsa of Shemakha opposite Norman Treigle's Dodon, and Julius Rudel conducting Tito Capobianco's production.
On 13 December 1975 the BBC broadcast a live performance in English from the Theatre Royal Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Gibson, and with Don Garrard as Tsar Dodon, John Angelo Messana as the Astrologer and Catherine Gayer as the Tsaritsa.
The Mariinsky Theatre staged a new production of The Golden Cockerel on 25 December 2014, with Valery Gergiev as conductor. The stage director and costume designer was Anna Matison. The opera was presented in Russian during the 2015 winter season by the Sarasota Opera conducted by Ekhart Wycik, with set designs by David P. Gordon, and featuring Grigory Soloviov as Tsar Dodon, Alexandra Batsios as the Tsaritsa of Shemakha, Timur Bekbosunov at the Astrologer, and Riley Svatos as the Golden Cockerel.
De Munt/La Monnaie staged a new production in Brussels in December 2016. This was a co-production with the Teatro Real of Madrid and Opera National de Lorraine (Nancy). The stage director and costume designer was Laurent Pelly; the conductor, Alain Altinoglu. The role of Tsar Dodon was shared between Pavol Hunka and Alexey Tikhomirov; the Tsarina shared between Venera Gimadieva and Nina Minasyan. Alexander Kravets took the role of Astrologer and the singing role of the Cockerel was played by Sheva Tehoval with Sarah Demarthe as the on-stage Cockerel.
|Roles||Voice type||Performance cast
24 September 1909
(Conductor: Emil Cooper)
6 November 1909
(Conductor: Vyacheslav Suk)
|Tsar Dodon (? )||bass||Nikolay Speransky||Vasily Osipov|
|Tsarevich Gvidon (? )||tenor||Fyodor Ernst||Semyon Gardenin|
|Tsarevich Afron (? )||baritone||Andrey Dikov||Nikolay Chistyakov|
|General Polkan||bass||Kapiton Zaporozhets|
|Amelfa, a housekeeper||contralto||Aleksandra Rostovtseva||Serafima Sinitsina|
|Astrologer||tenor altino||Vladimir Pikok||Anton Bonachich|
|Tsaritsa of Shemakha ( )||coloratura soprano||Avreliya-Tsetsiliya Dobrovolskaya||Antonina Nezhdanova|
|Golden Cockerel (? ?)||soprano||Vera Klopotovskaya||Yevgeniya Popello-Davydova|
|chorus, silent roles|
Note on names:
Note: There is an actual city of Shemakha (also spelled "?amax?", "Schemacha" and "Shamakhy"), which is the capital of the Shamakhi Rayon of Azerbaijan. In Pushkin's day it was an important city and capital of what was to become the Baku Governorate. But the realm of that name, ruled by its tsaritsa, bears little resemblance to today's Shemakha and region; Pushkin likely seized the name for convenience, to conjure an exotic monarchy.
After quotation by the orchestra of the most important leitmotifs, a mysterious Astrologer comes before the curtain and announces to the audience that, although they are going to see and hear a fictional tale from long ago, his story will have a valid and true moral.
The bumbling Tsar Dodon talks himself into believing that his country is in danger from a neighbouring state, Shemakha, ruled by a beautiful Tsaritsa. He requests advice of the Astrologer, who supplies a magic Golden Cockerel to safeguard the Tsar's interests. When the little cockerel confirms that the Tsaritsa of Shemakha does harbor territorial ambitions, Dodon decides to preemptively strike Shemakha, sending his army to battle under the command of his two sons.
However, his sons are both so inept that they manage to kill each other on the battlefield. Tsar Dodon then decides to lead the army himself, but further bloodshed is averted because the Golden Cockerel ensures that the old Tsar becomes besotted when he actually sees the beautiful Tsaritsa. The Tsaritsa herself encourages this situation by performing a seductive dance - which tempts the Tsar to try and partner her, but he is clumsy and makes a complete mess of it. The Tsaritsa realises that she can take over Dodon's country without further fighting - she engineers a marriage proposal from Dodon, which she coyly accepts.
The Final Scene starts with the wedding procession in all its splendour. As this reaches its conclusion, the Astrologer appears and says to Dodon, "You promised me anything I could ask for if there could be a happy resolution of your troubles ... ." "Yes, yes," replies the Tsar, "just name it and you shall have it." "Right," says the Astrologer, "I want the Tsaritsa of Shemakha!" At this, the Tsar flares up in fury, and strikes down the Astrologer with a blow from his mace. The Golden Cockerel, loyal to his Astrologer master, then swoops across and pecks through the Tsar's jugular. The sky darkens. When light returns, the Tsaritsa and the little cockerel are gone.
The Astrologer comes again before the curtain and announces the end of his story, reminding the public that what they just saw was "merely illusion," that only he and the Tsaritsa were mortals and real.
Composer's Performance Remarks (1907)
Early stagings became influential by stressing the modernist elements inherent in the opera. Diaghilev's 1914 Paris production had the singers sitting offstage, while dancers provided the stage action. Though some in Russia disapproved of Diaghilev's interpretation, and Rimsky-Korsakov's widow threatened to sue, the production was considered a milestone. Stravinsky was to expand on this idea in the staging of his own Renard (1917) and Les Noces (1923), in which the singers are unseen, and mimes or dancers perform on stage.
Rimsky-Korsakov made the following concert arrangement:
Efrem Zimbalist wrote Concert Phantasy on 'Le coq d'or' for violin and piano based on themes from the suite.
Marina Frolova-Walker points to The Golden Cockerel as the fore-runner of the anti-psychologistic and absurdist ideas which would culminate in such 20th century 'anti-operas' as Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges (1921) and Shostakovich's The Nose (1930). In this, his last opera, Rimsky-Korsakov had laid "the foundation for modernist opera in Russia and beyond."
In 1978-79 the English composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji wrote "Il gallo d'oro" da Rimsky-Korsakov: variazioni frivole con una fuga anarchica, eretica e perversa.
Audio Recordings (Mainly studio recordings, unless otherwise indicated)