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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rimsky-Korsakov: Sadko

02/03/2019 1:00 pm
02/03/2019 4:30 pm

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

I have always liked the fairy tale operas of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844- 1908) and have broadcast recordings of them now and again over the years. Perhaps the single finest one of them all is Sadko (1898). The eponymous character is a minstrel and psaltery player whose hometown is Novgorod. The prosperous merchants of the town want to bring more commerce their way from Russia and beyond, but Novgorod lacks a navigable outlet to the sea. The minstrel has a plan to fix that, but the merchants mock him and Sadko has no gold to finance his venture. He finds help from the water spirits of nearby Lake Ilmen. Sadko then becomes a kind of Russian Sinbad the Sailor. With a fishnet he snatches up gold out of the lake. The gold funds a fleet of ships. Sadko's psaltery possesses magic powers with which he charms the Sea King. After an escapade in the undersea kingdom he returns in triumph to Novgorod.

The old story from pre-Christian times has an explanation for how the Volkhov River came to be. Rimsky-Korsakov provided Sadko with a wonderful, colorful score. Russian bassos have always loved to sing "The Song of the Viking Guest" from Sadko, but the hit number of the opera is the world-famous "Song of India."

The recording of Sadko you will hear today was made live in performance at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1993. Valery Gergiev conducts the Kirov Chorus and Orchestra with a cast of native Russian singers. The Philips label released Sadko on three compact discs.