Catherine the Empress (Ario) Making Tales into Princely Operas
The last quarter of the eighteenth century was marked by the collection and publication of folk and urban songs, tales, oral poems, and airs. Although several Russian intellectuals including Mikhail Chulkov and Vasily Levshin worked in the inherently connected domains of skazka, folk songs, and theater, it was Empress Catherine II who concocted fairy-tale “comic” opera. Her venture into writing libretti and staging operas paralleled her military and political campaigns. Within about a year she wrote three libretti; during a four-year period she completed and produced four opera-skazkas, Boeslavich, Champion of Novgorod (1786), Fevei (1786), The Brave and bold knight Akhrideich] (1787), and The Woebegone-Hero Kosometovich (1789). They represent different types of Russian operatic tales that blossomed in the following century: magic opera, opera-bylina, and satirical opera. In all of her operatic tales, Catherine endorsed folk songs, old native tales, ritualistic elements, and big traditional princely weddings.
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