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Music with Ease > Other 19th Century Opera (Russian, English, Czech, etc.) > The Golden Cockerel - Rimsky-Korsakov


The Golden Cockerel
(French title: Le Coq d'Or)
An Opera by Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov


Opera pantomime in three acts with prologue and epilogue. Produced in May, 1910, at Zimin’s Private Theatre, Moscow. Music by Rimsky-Korsakov.

CHARACTERS

KING DODON………………………………….. Baritone
PRINCE GUIDON……………………………… Tenor
PRINCE AFRON……………………………….. Baritone
VOEVODA POLKAN (the General)…………… Baritone
AMELFA (the royal housekeeper)……………… Contralto
THE ASTROLOGER…………………………… Tenor
THE QUEEN OF SHEMAKHAN………………. Soprano
THE GOLDEN COCK………………………….. Soprano


"The Golden Cockerel" (or "Le Coq d’Or") was Rimsky-Korsakoff’s last opera. The censor refused to sanction its performance during the composer’s lifetime and his difficulties with the authorities in this matter are supposed to have hastened his death. When the work was given in Petrograd it was thought to be over-taxing for the singers who are obliged to dance, or for the dancers who are obliged to sing. M. Fokine ingeniously devised the plan of having all the singers seated at each side of the stage, while the dancers interpreted, in pantomime, what was sung. In spite of the protests made by the composer’s family, this was done in Paris, London, and New York.

The opera is composed to a libretto, by V. Bielsky, based upon a well-known poem by Pushkin. In a preface to the book the author says: "The purely human nature of Pushkin’s ‘Golden Cock’ -- that instructive tragicomedy of the unhappy consequences following upon mortal passions and weaknesses -- permits us to place the plot in any region and in any period."





King Dodon, lazy and gluttonous, is oppressed by the cares of state. Warlike neighbours harass him with their attacks. Holding council in the hall of his palace with his Boyards, he asks the advice first of one son, then the other. But the wise old General disagrees with the solutions suggested by the young princes. Soon the entire assembly is in an uproar. The astrologer then appears and offers the King a golden cock. The bird has the power to foretell events, and in case of danger will give warning. The King is overjoyed. From a spire in the capital the bird sends out various messages. At its bidding citizens now rush for their weapons, now continue peaceful occupations. Dodon’s bed is brought upon the stage, and the monarch relieved of all responsibility goes to sleep, after having been tucked in by the royal housekeeper. Suddenly the cock sounds the war alarm. The rudely awakened sovereign first sends his sons, then goes himself. Dodon’s army fares ill. In the second act, the moonlight in a narrow pass reveals the bodies of his two sons. At dawn, Dodon notices a tent under the hillside. The King thinks it is the tent of the enemy leader, but to his astonishment, a beautiful woman emerges. The lovely Queen lures on the aged Dodon, mocks at his voice, and forces him to dance, until he falls exhausted to the ground. Finally she agrees to become his bride.

The third act shows the populace preparing to welcome Dodon. There is a wonderful procession led by Dodon and the Queen, followed by a grotesque train of giants and dwarfs. Soon the Queen is bored. The astrologer returns, claiming a reward for his magic bird. He demands the Queen. Dodon kills the astrologer by a blow on the head with his sceptre, but this does not improve his position with his bride. With an ominous cry, the bird flies towards the King and fells him with one blow from his beak. A thunderclap is followed by darkness. When light returns both Queen and cock have disappeared. The people lament the death of the King. In the epilogue the resuscitated astrologer announces that the story is only a fairy tale and that in Dodon’s kingdom only the Queen and himself are mortals.





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