Synopses & Reviews
In Bewitching Russian Opera: The Tsarina from State to Stage
, author Inna Naroditskaya investigates the musical lives of four female monarchs who ruled Russia for most of the eighteenth century: Catherine I, Anna, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great. Engaging with ethnomusicological, historical, and philological approaches, her study traces the tsarinas' deeply invested interest in musical drama, as each built theaters, established drama schools, commissioned operas and ballets, and themselves wrote and produced musical plays. Naroditskaya examines the creative output of the tsarinas across the contexts in which they worked and lived, revealing significant connections between their personal creative aspirations and contemporary musical-theatrical practices, and the political and state affairs conducted during their reigns.
Through contemporary performance theory, she demonstrates how the opportunity for role-playing and costume-changing in performative spaces allowed individuals to cross otherwise rigid boundaries of class and gender. A close look at a series of operas and musical theater productions--from Catherine the Great's fairy tale operas to Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame--illuminates the transition of these royal women from powerful political and cultural figures during their own reigns, to a marginalized and unreal Other under the patriarchal dominance of the subsequent period. These tsarinas successfully fostered the concept of a modern nation and collective national identity, only to then have their power and influence undone in Russian cultural consciousness through the fairy-tales operas of the 19th century that positioned tsarinas as "magical" and dangerous figures rightfully displaced and conquered--by triumphant heroes on the stage, and by the new patriarchal rulers in the state. Ultimately, this book demonstrates that the theater served as an experimental space for these imperial women, in which they rehearsed, probed, and formulated gender and class roles, and performed on the musical stage political ambitions and international conquests which they would later enact on the world stage itself.
"Inna Naroditskaya's book provides a striking new view of Russian opera and Russian political culture. Written with verve and erudition, it evokes the images of magical otherworldly women, in folk tales and on the throne, as central figures in the evolution of Russian opera." --Richard Wortman, Columbia University
"Bewitching Russian Opera explores Russian nationalism and the arts in a revisionist spirit, placing issues of gender in provocative cultural context and persuasively re-assessing the Russian operatic canon." --Julie Buckler, Harvard University
"This is a welcome intervention in gender studies of music, and studies of Russian opera in particular. Well written and closely observed, it should find a broad audience in and out of music studies." --Timothy Taylor, UCLA
"In a close reading of uncanny deliberation and synthesis, Inna Naroditskaya gives us more than a tale of feminist revisionism. What emerges is a vivid narrative of the unsuspected power of Russia's eighteenth-century czarinas in the formation of nineteenth-century nationalist opera. A brilliantly researched and lucidly articulated work." --Glenn Watkins, Earl V. Moore Professor Emeritus, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
"Naroditskaya illuminates the intangible margins between theatrical productions, masquerades, and real political events, so characteristic of imperial Russia (especially in 18th century). It is exciting to read about operatic inoskazanie, which, embedded in bright scenic masks, often conveyed political intentions, aspirations, and historical commentary in a much more complex yet direct way than any facet of courtly life or any imperial official decree." -- Maria Shcherbakova, Director of Mariinsky Theatre Library and Professor, Saint Petersburg State Conservatoire
"In witty, fast-paced, impassioned prose, this masterpiece of intertextual hermeneutics leads the reader to new understandings of nineteenth-century (male) nationalist operas, created on a foundation laid by foreign (female) monarchs." --Timothy Rice, Director
The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
"Approaching Russian operatic tradition from the perspective of sovereignty and gender politics--a largely uncharted territory in Russian music studies--Bewitching Russian Opera brings to light some well-forgotten operatic undertakings while offering new ways to hear perennial favorites." --Anna Nisnevich, University of Pittsburgh
"In the boldness of her writing, Inna Naroditskaya in some ways resembles Catherine the Great, the monarch at the center of this book. Like Catherine, Naroditskaya connects various epochs in Russia's past and reshapes outdated narratives to create a compelling new story...The author makes her arguments in a refreshingly conversational style that avoids jargon, and her writing about music dazzles. Reading this important book is like enjoying an evening of opera with an in-the-know friend who keeps whispering gem-like observations. Russian opera deserves this fresh perspective." --The Russian Review
"An exciting and pathbreaking study that should change the way we look at Russian opera, gender, and the course of modern Russian cultural history." --Slavic Review
About the Author
is Associate Professor of Music at Northwestern University.
Table of Contents
Overture: Russia's Imperial Prima Donnas
1. Russian Minervas Staging Empire
2. The Play of Possibilities: Serfs Enacting Aristocrats and Countesses Playing Peasants
3. Catherine the Empress(ario): Making Tales into Princely Operas
4. Oleg at the Roots of Russian Historical Opera
Interlude: to Patria and Nation
5. Ruslan and Liudmila
6. Rusalka: Water, Power, and Women
7. Mlada and Inescapable Female Circle
8. Sadko: He is the Hero!
9. Queen of Spades