Russian epic opera Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin

The first Russian heroic-epic opera “Prince Igor” from the composer Alexander Borodin is a very unique musical work. Everything amazes in this opera: the music, as if conveying the depth of the Russian soul, and the plot, which is based on one of the oldest Russian manuscripts of works – “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.” Work on the opera lasted for eighteen years (!), But Alexander Borodin never managed to finish it.

18-year history of creating the opera “Prince Igor”

Borodin got the idea of writing an opera based on the ancient Russian manuscript – “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign” from his friend – Vladimir Stasov. The composer got immediately enthusiastic about it, because he had always been interested in the history of ancient Russia and heroic images were present in many of his works.

It is amazing that to this day we don’t know the author o surprising that up to now the author of “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.”At various times this handwritten manuscript was studied by historians, geographers, biologists, astronomers – and they all found something new and startling in it. Among the researchers there was even an opinion that if you at least once in your life “touch” “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign” – it will never let you go. Maybe this was also the reason why Borodin took so many years to write his opera.

To fully feel the images and spirit of antiquity, Borodin took a trip around Putivel that is near Kursk. There he began researching ancient chronicles, stories and legends about Polovtzy, their music and songs.

That is why the libretto for the opera “Prince Igor” was created by the composer alone, together with the musical score, in order to emphasize special features of the literary source. This helped to bring the central image of Prince Igor to the image of folk heroes so loved by the composer.

The fate of the first Russian epic opera

Borodin never finished his 18-year-old work on the opera. The unexpected death of the composer shocked his contemporaries.

The situation with the opera “Prince Igor” at the time of the composer’s death was not the best: only several parts were almost finished: the prologue, the first and the second acts. The music for the third and fourth acts was composed, but not completely recorded.

The fact that the opera still saw the lightwas due to the efforts of Borodin’s friends and students, who literally went sheet by sheet over his archives trying to find the passages to complete the work of genius. Great contribution to reconstruct and finish Borodin’s opera was made by Glazunov, who from memory recovered the missing musical episodes which Borodin played during musical evenings. Great assistance was also rendered by composer Rimsky-Korsakov, who orchestrated the second part of the opera, surprisingly keeping the musical style of Borodin.

It took nearly three years of continuous hard work and, finally, in 1890 the premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. And this was only the first triumph among other triumphs that followed each staging of the opera.

The opera “Prince Igor” truly impressed the audience. Melodic performance, comparable with folk music, honesty of Russian musical tradition and the realism of characters – all of that ensured the popularity of Borodin’s opera.


Mariinsky Theatre performance

Part 1:

Part 2

P.S. Alexander Borodin, besides his musical career was primarily a scientist – a famous chemist.

P.P.S. A very special scene in the first video at 1 hour and 21 minutes – for about 4-5 minutes – when they are trying to break the will of the captive prince…

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