Late breaking information



Subject matter, local colour, and national style in nineteenth-century Russian opera: the case of Aleksandr Serov’s Judith

Rutger Helmers

May 16, 2013, 15:30-17:00
Universiteitstheater, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, zaal 3.01

The history of nineteenth-century Russian opera has always been closely associated with the search for a distinctive, national style of composition. It is worth noting, however, that the notion of what constitutes Russian music is closely associated with actual portrayals of Russia: the vast majority of the Russian canonical operatic repertoire is based on Russian subjects—something that is hardly the case, for instance, for the French or Italian traditions. The Russian conception of national opera, therefore, appears to be intimately related to the notion of local colour, and as Marina Frolova-Walker recently argued, this relation is worth exploring in more detail. What were the implications when Russian composers chose a non-Russian subject? How did such works relate to the widespread desire to develop a recognizable national style of Russian music? How did the potential tension between the portrayal of the characters on stage and the sense of the composer’s own national identity play out?

Focussing on Aleksandr Serov’s biblical opera Judith (1863), this lecture will show the confusion and lack of consensus surrounding these questions in nineteenth-century discourse and examine the implications for our understanding of the role of nationalism in the history of Russian music.