The Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov might be described as an operatic dynamo: not only did he compose fifteen of them himself, but he also had a hand in editing, orchestrating and promoting four important Russian operas written by others: Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” and “Khovantschina,” Borodin’s “Prince Igor,” and Dargomïzhsky’s “The Stone Guest.”
Of Rimsky-Korsakov’s fifteen operas, however, only his last, “The Golden Cockerel,” is staged with any regularity outside Russia, although instrumental suites and excerpts from several of them have proven immensely popular as concert pieces.
The familiar “Flight of the Bumble-Bee” is from a Rimsky-Korsakov opera that premiered in Moscow on today’s date in 1900, and, like most of his operas, is based on Russian fairytales. The opera’s full title is: “The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of his Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatïr Prince Guidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Swan-Princess.”
If you think the title is a bit long, consider the required cast of performers, which in addition to thirteen main characters calls for Boyars and their wives, courtiers, nursemaids, sentries, troops, boatmen, astrologers, footmen, singers, scribes, servants and maids, dancers of both sexes, 33 knights of the sea with their leader Chernomor, a squirrel, and – oh yes – a bumblebee.
You begin to see that staging a Rimsky-Korsakov opera is: a) not something one can do on the cheap, and b) potentially confusing to those not familiar from infancy with the intricacies of Russian fairy tales.
Music Played in Today's Program
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908)Flight of the Bumble Bee, from Tsar SaltanPhilharmonia Orchestra; Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond.London 460 250
Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovFlight of the Bumble BeeBudapest Clarinet QuintetNaxos 8.553427
Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovFlight of the Bumble BeeItzhak Perlman, violin; Samuel Sanders, pianoEMI 54882