A list of every Russian opera I have ever listened to

I love Russian classical music and Russian opera and have been listening to it for over two decades.  

In a previous post I shared all the Russian operas that I listened to in 2023, specifically. I had made it a personal project to listen to and discover ones that I had not heard before.

This post covers all the Russian operas I have listened to over the last couple of decades.

Russian Operas: Powerful and Beautiful, with Oriental inspiration

Although a later arrival on the classical music world, Russia has produced some the finest and most memorable works of classical music that has left an enduring legacy on classical music.

Interestingly the first Russian opera was not composed by a Russian, but by an Italian composer who lived in Russia for 25 years and wrote at least 14 operas for the Russian Imperial Court.

The first opera was Cephalus and Procris (Цефал и Прокрис) by Francesco Araja staged in 1755. The libretto was written by Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov (Алекса́ндр Петро́вич Сумаро́ков). The main characters are from Greek Mythology, the characters feature in Book VII of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

It was first staged in the magnificent Winter Palace Зимний дворец in Saint Petersburg.

Winter Palace, completed in 1762

What makes Russian opera special?

Russian opera is special for many reasons, the first being historical. The West doesn’t know much about the music, art or culture produced during the Soviet years, let alone pre-soviet Russia. These operas offer a window into the Russian spirit.

During the time of the Soviet Union, these works were produced under a lot of challenges and provide a historical insight into what was allowed and what was banned.

Russian operas are unique. They are a fantastic way to be exposed to culture and myths that you may not normally come across.   

Some of these works were never completed but you can find records of some of them from world premieres in Russia.

Some of the operas are in several languages. As if listening to an opera in a foreign language is not hard enough! As a listener you get an idea of how these languages sound, and it gives the effect that you are seeing or experiencing the scenes in person.

Some of these like Weinberg’s Passenger have English, Russian, German, Polish, Yiddish, and Czeck. This is not exclusive to Russian opera, but I feel it worth noting.

Some of these are considered propagandistic pieces of the C.C.C.P but give a window into what messages and values that Soviet state was promoting.

Left to Right: Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, César Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Mily Balakirev.

Influential groups in Russia

The Mighty Five (Могучая кучка)

My favorite are the works from The Mighty Five, a collective of Russian composers who sought to create music that was uniquely Russian. It had as its subject matter, Russian historical events and characters, mythology, folklore, and folk music and exotic melodies incorporated into their works. This was in contrast to the tastes, styles and subjects of the West. The group operated from1856 to 1870.

The Mighty Five included;

  1. Mily Balakirev (Милий Балакирев)
  2. César Cui (Цезарь Кюи)
  3. Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Мусоргский)
  4. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
  5. Alexander Borodin (Александр Бородин)

The Russian Wanderers (Передви́жники)

There was a parallel artistic movement among painters called The Russian Wanderers who formed a collective in protest to the creative restrictions imposed upon them by the Academy of Arts. The movement existed from 1871 to 1923.

Coincidentally, some of my favorite painters are from this group, such as Ivan Shishkin (Иван Шишкин) and Ilya Repin (Илья Репин).

Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin is remembered in the history of Russian art as an artist who glorified the grandeur and beauty of the nature

The State Tretyakov Gallery

Both the Mighty Five and the Wanderers were comprised of some artists that had no formal training, at least initially. Such as Modest Mussorgsky who was mainly self-taught and pursued a military career and the painter Arkhip Kuindzhi – who worked as a retoucher in a photography studio and taught himself how to paint.

Their mission, similar to the Mighty Five, was stated thus:

“An important tenet of the association was to bring art to the people of the provinces living outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg”

Belyayev Circle (Беляевский кружок)

The Mighty Five was followed by the society of the Belyayev Circle. While some of the Mighty Five formed a part, there were also new composers such as Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. This lasted from 1885-1908.

Similar to the nationalistic focus and realism mission of the Mighty Five, the Belyayev Circle opposed the dominant movement which identified with the values of Russian aristocracy and cosmopolitanism.

The Belyayev Circle though came to honor the mission of the Mighty Five but placed greater value on the academic study and Western-based composition practices in their quest to make their uniquely Russian music. This group was also a little more open to drawing on inspiration from outside of its scope.

However, the Belyayev Circle did not go out of their way to find and incorporate folk melodies and travel to find them, such as Balakirev who made numerous trips to the Volga River region and the Caucasus. The Belyayev developed upon the orientalism of the Mighty Five as well.

They received no state support and supported their project by having markets in the countryside.

Together, these two groups have left us a body of work of classical music and operas that are unique and special. The art and music often depicted life in the countryside or rural villages as well as the everyday man and woman doing hard manual labor or in crowded public scenes like a train station or construction sites or scenes from village life.

While there are many great composers that came later, and some are favorites of mine as well, such as Dmitri Shostakovich (Дмитрий Шостакович), the later composers drew heavily upon Western music such incorporating elements of Jazz into their works. Thus these two groups are in a way the most authentically Russian music and opera that can be found even though there were many later composers, both from the Soviet and post-Soviet era.

Left to Right: Mikhail Glinka, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Every Russian opera I have ever listened to.

I enjoy learning about Russian culture, and this is quite an immersive way. To listen to an opera, and then read the primary text which it is based on. You are left with an idea about the characters and values that are cherished as well as historical events and people.

I have never had the opportunity to see a Russian opera in person as it is less popular than Italian, German, and French operas. The few operas that I have attended in person were in Italian, there is not much variety and scope in South Africa.

Some of these are based on poems, novels, and plays by some the greatest Russian writers such as Mikhail Lermontov (Михаи́л Ле́рмонтов), Alexander Pushkin (Александр Пушкин), Nikolai Gogol (Никола́й Го́голь) Leo Tolstoy (Лев Толстой), Fyodor Dostoevsky (Ѳедоръ Достоевскій).

How I find these operas?

A combination of organic searching for Russian composers, and classical music and opera forums.

Often I could not find a work posted in English so I would translate or find the original Russian title and then search that in YouTube or Russian sites.

My favorite Russian Operas and their Themes

  • Khovanshchina – a tragedy of religious reform and rebellion, state persecution and torture and mass suicide.
  • Snegurochka – a tragic love story of the snow maiden whose heart is made of ice and once she falls in love it melts and she dies. Valuing self-restraint and listening to elders.
  • Boris Gudonov – a complex political tragedy dealing with political conspiracy, guilt, assassination and being haunted.
  • Eugene Onegin – a love story about the themes of loyalty and commitment and doing what is right and not just acting on impulse or short-term gratification and marriage.
  • Rusalka – a tragic love story, where a woman falls in love with a prince who impregnates her and abandons her to marry someone else. She commits suicide and becomes a mermaid.  He is haunted by her ghost. He goes to the lake where she drowned herself and she pulls him in into the lake with her where he dies.
  • Ruslan and Lyudmila – a love story about Ruslan saving is his bride, with themes of sorcery, bravery, and abduction.
  • Not Love Alone – After WWII a rural village in Russia has most of the men killed and all that are left are young men. A woman falls in love with one of them. It covers themes of unmet maternal needs and a love triangle.
  • The Demon – a tragic love story of a demon that falls in love with a woman whose groom the demon killed. She dies after giving up his advances and kissing him, he laments being alone.
  • The Queen of Spades – A story of greed, murder and being haunted, valuing self-restraint.
  • The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia – a tale of love, invading Tatars and a miracle.

The List

Below is a list of every Russian opera that I have listened to. I am sharing this for others like me who also enjoy Russian opera and can’t find it as forums sometimes have entries scattered across different pages and it is hard to find in a single list.

I have listened to Russian classical music operas and folk music for almost two decades, but mostly stuck to ones that I was familiar with and would listen to different recordings, in different time periods, by different orchestras or conductors or a favorite particular recording.

Last year I set out to listen to every Russian opera I could find to discover ones I had not listened to before, and learn more about Russian opera in general and about Russian culture.

This will be a running list and as I discover more, I will add more once I have listened to them. I have only listed what I have listened to in full at least once.

Title and Composer
1A life for the Tsar (Жизнь за царя) by Mikhail Glinka (Михаил Глинка)
2Aleko (Алеко) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Сергей Рахманинов)
3Askold’s Grave (Аскольдова могила) by Alexey Verstovsky (Алексей Верстовский)
4Betrothal in a Monastery (Обручение в монастыре) by Sergei Prokofiev (Сергей Прокофьев)
5Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов) by Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Мусоргский)
6Boyarina Morozova (Боярыня Морозова) by Rodion Shchedrin (Родион Щедрин)
7Cherevichki (Черевички ) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
8Christmas Eve (Ночь перед Рождеством) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
9Congratulations! (Поздравляем!) by Mieczysław Weinberg (Мечислав Вайнберг)
10Distant Seas (Далёкие моря) by Sergei Prokofiev (Сергей Прокофьев)
11Doctor Zhivago (Доктор Живаго) by David Krivitsky (Давид Кривицкий)
12Esmeralda (Эсмеральда) by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (Александр Даргомыжский)
13Eugene Onegin (Евгений Онегин) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
14Francesca da Rimini (Франческа да Римини) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Сергей Рахманинов)
15Iolanta (Иоланта) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
16Kashchey the Immortal (Кащей Бессмертный) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
17Khovanshchina (Хованщина) by Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Мусоргский)
18Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Леди Макбет Мценского уезда) by Dmitri Shostakovich (Дмитрий Шостакович)
19L’amour des trois oranges (Любовь к трём апельсинам) by Sergei Prokofiev (Сергей Прокофьев)
20May Night (Майская ночь) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
21Mazeppa (Мазепа) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
22Mlada (Млада) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
23Monna Vanna (Монна Ванна) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Монна Ванна by Сергей Рахманинов)
24Moscow, Cheryomushki (Москва, Черёмушки) by Dmitri Shostakovich (Дмитрий Шостакович)
25Mozart and Salieri (Моцарт и Сальери) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
26Not Love Alone (Не только любовь) by Rodion Shchedrin (Родион Щедрин)
27Oresteia (Орестея) by Sergei Taneyev (Сергей Танеев)
28Pan Voyevoda (Пан воевода) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
29Prince Igor (Князь Игорь) by Alexander Borodin (Александр Бородин)
30Princess Yurata (Принцесса Юрата) by Nikolai Golovanov (Николай Голованов)
31Quiet Flows the Don (Тихий Дон) by Ivan Dzerzhinsky (Иван Дзержинский)
32Rusalka (Русалка) by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (Александр Даргомыжский)
33Ruslan and Lyudmila (Руслан и Людмила) by Mikhail Glinka (Михаил Глинка)
34Sadko by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Садко by Николай Римский-Корсаков)
35Semyon Kotko (Семён Котко) by Сергей Прокофьев (Sergei Prokofiev)
36Story of a Real Man (Повесть о настоящем человеке) by (Сергей Прокофьев)
37Tha Gadfly (Овод) by Antonio Spadavecchia (Антонио Спадавеккиа)
38The Captain’s Daughter (Капитанская дочка) by César Cui (Цезарь Кюи)
39The Dawns Are Quiet Here (Зори здесь тихие) by Kirill Molchanov (Кирилл Молчанов)
40The Dead Souls (Мёртвые души) by Rodion Shchedrin (Родион Щедрин)
41The Demon (Демон) Anton Rubinstein (Антон Рубинштейн)
42The Enchantress (Чародейка) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
43The Fair at Sorochyntsi (Сорочинская ярмарка) by Modest Mussorgsky (Модест Мусоргский)
44The Fiery Angel (О́гненный а́нгел) by Sergey Prokofiev (Сергея Прокофьева)
45The Gambler (Игрок) by Sergei Prokofiev (Сергей Прокофьев)
46The Gamblers (Игроки) by Dmitri Shostakovich (Дмитрий Шостакович)
47The Golden Cockerel (Золотой петушок) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
48The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya (Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
49The Maid of Orleans (Орлеанская дева) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
50The Maid of Pskov (Псковитянка) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
51The Miserly Knight (Скупой рыцарь) by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Сергей Рахманинов)
52The Nightingale (Соловей) by Igor Stravinsky (Игорь Стравинский)
53The Nose (Нос) by Dmitri Shostakovich (Дмитрий Шостакович)
54The Oprichnik (Опричник) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
55The Passenger (Пассажирка) by Mieczysław Weinberg (Мечислав Вайнберг)
56The Queen of Spades (Пиковая дама) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
57The Snow Maiden (Снегурочка) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
58The Snow Maiden: A Sprint Fairy Tale (Снегурочка–весенняя сказка) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
59The Stone Guest (Каменный гость) by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (Александр Даргомыжский)
60The Tsar’s Bride (Царская невеста) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков)
61Vakula the Smith (Вакула Кузнец) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильич Чайковский)
62War and Peace (Война и мир) by Sergei Prokofiev (Сергей Прокофьев)
63White Nights (Белые ночи) by Yuri Butsko (Юрий Буцко)

Some operas are French but have remained as they are regarded as some of the best works by the Russian composer.

And some are by Soviet composers but who lived and died in Russia and spoke Russian in addition to composing a Russian opera so even though Antonio Spadavecchia for example was of Italian descent I have included him, and other composers like him.

If you know of any that you think should be on the list, comment below and let me know.

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