Not Russian Enough?

Not Russian Enough?

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century Russian Opera

Rutger Helmers


University of Rochester Press



Offers fresh perspectives on the function of nationalist thought in the cosmopolitan opera world, with particular emphasis on the idea of "Russianness" in four nineteenth-century operas by Glinka, Serov, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.
In the nineteenth century, Russian composers and critics were encouraged to cultivate a national style to distinguish their music from the dominant Italian, French, and German traditions. Not Russian Enough? explores this aspiration for a nationalist musical tradition as it was carried out in the cosmopolitan world of opera. Rutger Helmers analyzes the cultural context, music, and reception of four important operas: Glinka's A Life for the Tsar (1836), Serov's Judith (1863), Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orléans (1881), and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride (1899). He discusses such issues as the influence of Italian and French opera, the use of foreign subjects, the application of local color, and the adherence to the classics, and considers how these related to a sense of "Russianness." Besides yielding new insights for each of these works, this study offers a fresh perspective on the function of nationalist thought in the nineteenth-century Russian opera world..

Rutger Helmers is Assistant Professor in Historical Musicology at the University of Amsterdam and lectures in literary and cultural studies at Radboud University Nijmegen.


December 2014
39 line illustrations
250 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580465007
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS028000, HIS037060, HIS032000
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Part and the Whole
A Life for the Tsar and Bel Canto Opera
Subject Matter, Local Color, and National Style in Judith
French Theatricality and Inadvertent Russianisms in The Maid of Orleans
The Tsar's Bride and the Dilemma of History


Revealing and convincing. The book is most valuable for the individual insights Helmers brings to the four case studies. The main revelation of the book is that in terms of the concept of Russianness, flexibility in composition and ambiguity in interpretation were the norm during the period in question. Helmers has set an example and made an admirable contribution in his coverage of the reception of nineteenth-century Russian opera from a new perspective. Investigating often excluded connections with European traditions, this book serves as a valuable complement to existing accounts. MUSIC & LETTERS

Helmers's lucid and lively style, as well as his sensitivity to musical and cultural identities, make (this) an obvious recommendation for any collection serving research in Western music. MUSIC REFERENCE SERVICES QUARTERLY

Helmers provides many fascinating insights for anyone anxious to learn more about that works that make up this still-emerging repertoire. Written in a straightforward and accesible style, (it) will serve well not only the specialist scholar, but also the general reader who wishes to know more about nineteenth-century Russian opera. FONTES ARTIS MUSICAE

Not Russian Enough? is certainly timely enough, and clever enough, and engaging enough. A fresh look at the origins and growth of Russian opera in the nineteenth century, it offers a sustained critique of entrenched misevaluations, as well as a de-ghettoized appreciation of the distinctive qualities of a repertory that has achieved unprecedented worldwide currency on the twenty-first-century operatic stage. --Richard Taruskin, author of Defining Russia Musically and The Oxford History of Western Music

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