University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Borodin: Prince Igor

09/23/2018 1:00 pm
09/23/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor (1887) is a strange composite. Borodin left his one and only opera incomplete at the time of his death. Off and on since 1869 he had been working on it in little swatches. He had accumulated a mass of confused sketches which fellow composers Alexander Gluzunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov built upon. When the opera was staged for the first time in 1890, Glazunov contributed a rousing overture based on some of Borodin's tunes. Rimsky-Korsakov put the scenes in a dramatically coherent order, provided a fourth act from the sketches, and orchestrated it all.

Although later hands, like those of Russian musicologist Pavel Lamm, tinkered with Borodin's sketches to further extend the performing score, the uncut Glazunov/Rimsky-Kosakov version of the opera continued to be performed at Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theatre. A classic recording of it was made there in 1969 with Mark Ermler conducting. The original Melodiya tapes were digitally remastered for a BMG Classics reissue in 1996.

This will be the fifth time over the span of three decades that I've presented Prince Igor. First, there was the old Opera of Sofia (Bulgaria) LP recording with Emil Tchakarov in charge that I aired on two occasions: Sunday, October 14, 1984 and again in its Sony CD upgrade on Sunday, September 30, 1990. Then came Mark Ermler's interpretation with the Bolshoi on Sunday, September 28, 1997 and rebroadcast on Sunday, January 18, 2009. You get to hear that BMG three CD set again today. Prince Igor is a colorful pageant depicting a chapter in the history of medieval Russia. The most memorable and popular part of the music of Borodin's opera is the Polovtsian dance sequence in Act Two.