The Stone Guest ( in Cyrillic, Kamennyj gost' in transliteration) is an opera in three acts by Alexander Dargomyzhsky from a libretto taken almost verbatim from Alexander Pushkin's play of the same name which had been written in blank verse and which forms part of his collection Little Tragedies.
According to the composer's wishes, the last few lines of tableau 1 were composed by César Cui, and the whole was orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Many years later, Rimsky-Korsakov revised his own orchestration of the opera, rewrote a few of Dargomyzhsky's own original passages, and added an orchestral prelude. This version, completed in 1903 and first performed in 1907 at the Bolshoi Theatre, is now considered the standard version.
The United States premiere of the opera was presented by the Chamber Opera Theater of New York at the Marymount Manhattan Theater in New York City in 1986 with Ron Gentry as Don Juan, Randolf Messing as Don Carlos, Sally Stevens as Donna Anna, and Vladimir Kin conducting.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast|
16 February 1872 (Old Style)
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
|Don Juan||tenor||Fyodor Komissarzhevsky|
|Leporello, his servant||bass||Osip Petrov|
|Donna Anna||soprano||Yuliya Platonova|
|Don Carlos||baritone||Ivan Melnikov|
|A Monk||bass||Vladimir Sobolev|
|First Guest||tenor||Vasiliy Vasilyev (Vasilyev II)|
|Second Guest||bass||Mikhail Sariotti|
|Statue of the Commander||bass||Vladimir Sobolev|
As an opera, The Stone Guest is notable for having its text taken almost word-for-word from the literary stage work which inspired it, rather than being set to a libretto adapted from the source in order to accommodate opera audiences which would have expected to hear arias, duets, and choruses. Consequently, the resulting musical drama consists almost entirely of solos given in turn by each character, as in a spoken play.
This procedure amounted to a radical statement about the demands of spoken and musical drama and was seen by some as a devaluation of the musical genre of opera, and distinct from the literary genre of spoken drama. Tchaikovsky in particular was critical of the idea; in response to Dargomyzhky's statement that "I want sound directly to express the word. I want truth", he wrote in his private correspondence that nothing could be so "hateful and false" as the attempt to present as musical drama something that was not.
The opera was written at the time of the formation of realism in art, and The Stone Guest corresponded to this genre. Dargomyzhsky used the ideas of the society of The Five.
The great innovations of this opera are seen in its style. It was written without arias and ensembles (not counting two small romances sung by Laura) and it is entirely built on the "melodic recitative" of the human voice put to music. This was immediately noted by Russian musical specialists César Cui and Alexander Serov.
Opera has been greatly important in the formation of Russian musical culture which, built entirely on European music, found its place in the world's musical culture.
The innovations begun by Dargomyzhsky were continued by other composers. Firstly, they were taken up and developed by Modest Mussorgsky who called Dargomyzhsky "the teacher of musical truth". Later the principles of Dargomyzhsky's art were embodied by Mussorgsky in his operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina; Mussorgsky continued and strengthened this new musical tradition. Other Russians operas have also incorporated the same stylistic elements. These include Mozart and Salieri by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1898; Feast in Time of Plague by Cesar Cui in 1901; and The Miserly Knight by Sergei Rachmaninov in 1904.
The modern Russian music critic Viktor Korshikov thus summed up:
Consequently, certain musical novelties of The Stone Guest stem from the above basic premise of composition. For instance, there is little recurrence of whole sections of music in the course of the work; like the verse itself, the resulting music is primarily through-composed. (Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral introduction to the opera, however, draws on themes from the music that Dargomyzhsky composed.) As if to emphasize this feature, the composer wrote the entire opera without key signatures, even though it would be possible (and practical) to re-notate the work with key signatures to reflect the various tonalities through which it passes.
In addition, the opera was novel for its time in its use of dissonance and whole-tone scales. Dargomyzhky's attempts at realism and faithfulness to the text resulted in what has been referred to as a "studied ugliness" in the music, apparently intended to reflect the actual ugliness in the story. Cui termed the stylistic practice of the work as "melodic recitative" for its balance between the lyric and the naturalistic.