Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Libretto by Vladimir Belsky after the fairytale of the same name by Alexander Pushkin
The action takes place partly in the town of Tmutarkan and partly on the island of Buyan.
Three sisters are sitting at home spinning yarn; each dreams of what she would do if she were the Tsaritsa. Unnoticed by the sisters, Tsar Saltan overhears the conversation. The Tsar likes Militrisa’s wish to bear him a brave son. Saltan enters the room to announce that all the sisters will live at his palace, the eldest as a cook, the second as a weaver and the youngest as his wife. Envious of Militrisa’s good fortune, the two older sisters together with the old woman Babarikha plan how they can undo her happiness.
While the Tsar goes off to war, the young Tsaritsa gives birth to a son. Her older sisters together with Babarikha write a letter to the Tsar, which says that the Tsaritsa has borne neither a daughter nor a son, neither a mouse nor a frog, but a kind of monster. Having made the Tsar’s Messenger drunk, they replace the Tsar’s letter with theirs one which says that the Tsaritsa and her progeny must be sealed in a barrel and thrown into the sea. Accompanied by the people’s wails, the barrel with Militrisa and the young Tsarevich inside is cast into the sea.
The barrel is washed ashore on the desert island of Buyan. Militrisa and the Tsarevich Guidon, now a young man, brake out of their trap. Having made a bow, Guidon directs his steps to the shore to hunt some fowl. Having seen a huge kite chasing a swan, he kills the evil kite. The Swan-Bird promises Guidon to repay kindness with kindness and disappears.
In the morning the magical city of Ledenets appears out of the mist. Guidon is hailed by its residents and asked to become their Prince.
Guidon has become the people’s Prince, but he thinks longingly of his father. His sad gaze follows a ship that is headed towards Saltan’s kingdom. The Swan-Bird appears from the sea to help him. The Prince is turned into a bumblebee to catch up with the ship.
Tsar Saltan sits sadly on the throne in his palace in Tmutarakan. Povarikha, Tkachikha and Babarikha sit alongside of him. The ship lands at Tmutarakan, and the Tsar invites the shipmen to his palace and holds a feast for them to ask various questions. His guests tell of the beautiful city of Ledenets, of a squirrel in a crystal cage, of thirty-three knights of the sea, and of the brave and mighty Prince Guidon. Saltan is astonished – he wishes to see the miraculous city. Tkachikha and Povarikha anxiously try to dissuade him, and the bumblebee stings each of them on the eyebrow. Babarikha tries to distract Saltan with a tale of the most wonderful miracle in the world – a Tsarevna of indescribable beauty, and the bumblebee stings her on the eye and flies off, leaving behind chaos and confusion.
Guidon cannot forget Babarikha’s tale and dreams of the Tsarevna of wonderful beauty. He asks the Swan-Bird for help. The Swan-Bird answers that she is the Tsarevna and turns into the beautiful Princess. Tsaritsa Militrisa gives her blessing to the young couple.
Saltan’s ship lands on the island of Buyan. The Tsar and his retinue come ashore. In the palace Prince Guidon greets Saltan and asks him to sit on his side of the table. The Tsar and all the guests are astonished when they see the magical squirrel, the knights of the sea, headed by Chernomor, and the dazzlingly beautiful Swan-Princess. Saltan is excited; he asks to show him the Tsaritsa. Militrisa enters. Saltan learns that Prince Guidon is his son. Povarikha and Tkachikha beg for forgiveness. Babarikha tries to escape. Saltan is overjoyed; he forgives the plotters and gives a great feast to the world.
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov is called the greatest storyteller in the history of Russian music and The Tale of Tsar Saltan – his most joyful opera. Based on Pushkin’s theme, it was composed to coincide with the centenary of the genius of Russian poetry, so the composer tried to follow the original Pushkin’s text as closely as possible. And, indeed, the poetic lines of the immortal fairy tale literally tickle one’s imagination, prompting the musical solution: the magical squirrel sings: “In the grove or in the garden…” and the Swan Princess “speaks the Russian language.”
Rimsky-Korsakov wanted to compose music which would match Pushkin’s fairy tale – something Russian, lubok- and fair-like. The composer was so successful in incarnating this vision that after the opera premiere he became known as “the musical Pushkin”. Rimsky-Korsakov preserved both long, bylina-like name of the poem and Saltan’s peculiar features, such as naivety, good-natured humour, fast “dancing” rhythm, folklore storytelling techniques and national ethnic flavour.
The compositional method itself, which the author perceived as “grid drawing,” is a detailed artistic illustration akin to the art of ethnic embroidery or craftsmen’s palekh miniatures. Here, indeed, Rimsky-Korsakov could give rein to his love for filigree precision and careful drawing of “tasty bits,” his talent for colourful and inventive instrumentation. Apt description of the characters creates folklore-like rich and vivid images. The symphonic fragments, which brought Rimsky-Korsakov a resounding success before the opera had even premiered, are magnificent: the orchestra intermezzo Three Wonders, depicting wonders found in the City of Ledenets (a squirrel cracking golden nuts, thirty-three sea-knights (bogatyrs) headed by Chernomor and the beautiful Swan Princess), as well as the famous Bumblebee Flight which has become one of the main “hits” of music classics.
The producers who staged “The Tale About Tsar Saltan” on the Primorsky Stage – director Daria Panteleeva and designer Piotr Okunev – have created the performance with a thorough knowledge and respect for Russian fairy-tale traditions. On the stage, we can see accurately reconstructed signs of Russian life: delicate lace of wooden architecture and bright national class- and character-specific costumes seem to have stepped out of classical illustrations of folk tales.
World premiere: 3 November 1900, Moscow Private Russian Opera
Premiere in Vladivostok: 11 October 2014
Premiere of this production: 12 December 2021
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes
The performance has one interval
The highlighting of performances by age represents recommendations.
This highlighting is being used in accordance with Federal Law N436-FZ dated 29 December 2010 (edition dated 1 May 2019) "On the protection of children from information that may be harmful to their health"