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Overture to Prince Igor

Related Artists/Companies

Alexander Borodin

Upcoming Performances

Image from National Symphony Orchestra: Vassily Sinaisky, conductor: Rachmaninoff's <i>The Bells</i> / Loren Kitt, Principal Clarinet, plays Mozart's Clarinet Concerto National Symphony Orchestra: Vassily Sinaisky, conductor: Rachmaninoff's The Bells / Loren Kitt, Principal Clarinet, plays Mozart's Clarinet Concerto - Apr. 16 - 18, 2015
Conductor Vassily Sinaisky and three Russian singers make their NSO debut with Rachmaninoff's The Bells in a program including Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, featuring NSO Principal Clarinet Loren Kitt, and Borodin's Prince Igor Overture.

Past Performances

Image unvailable for National Symphony Orchestra Family Concerts: Music That Moves National Symphony Orchestra Family Concerts: Music That Moves - Sun., Nov. 9, 2003

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Alexander Borodin
© Richard Freed
Untitled Document

While Borodin is remembered as one of the outstanding Russian composers of his time, he was not a full-time musician. He was by profession a chemist and physician, and quite an important one, as certified by the statues erected in Russia in honor of Borodin the scientist. Prince Igor, his most ambitious musical work, occupied him for some 18 years, but his other commitments were such that he died without completing the opera. He wrote his own libretto, with the help of the critic Vladimir Stassov, based on the old historical document The Epic of Igor and His Army. He set about to write a thoroughly Russian opera, as Mussorgsky had done, owing little or nothing to Italian or German tradition. Portions of Prince Igor were performed during Borodin's lifetime, but he never got round to orchestrating the opera or drawing it together in finished dramatic shape, both of which tasks were left to his friend and colleague Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Rimsky's brilliant young pupil Alexander Glazunov. It appears, however, that Borodin himself actually completed the orchestration of the Polovtsian Dances, leaving little for Rimsky to do in this section beyond a little editorial polishing, and the dances were performed in concerts well before the opera's premiere, which took place in St. Petersburg on November 4, 1890.

The epic on which the opera is based is the story of Prince Igor Sviatoslavich of Sversk and his campaign, in 1185, to save his city of Putivl from the raids by the Tatar tribe of Polovtsi. Igor and his son Vladimir are captured by the Polovtsi, whose chief, Khan Konchak, treats them as honored guests and offers Igor his freedom in exchange for his pledge not to resume the fight. Igor, refusing that offer, manages to escape, rejoin his wife and deal with the intrigues that have arisen in his absence, but his son remains with the Polovtsi and marries the Khan's daughter.

The Polovtsian Dances represent the culmination of the lavish entertainment the Khan stages for Igor, in Act II. (The sequence the second and third of the opera's four acts, however, is reversed in the current Kirov production and some others.). Slave girls, warriors and young boys take part in the various dances, which range in mood from seductive languor to barbaric abandon. In order to achieve a realistically authentic musical image, Borodin studied the lore and music of the Tatars and Turkomans, and his flavorfully exotic mix also includes actual folk themes from the Caucasus and as far from Russia as Ethiopia and the Moorish sectors of North Africa.

While the Polovtsian Dances are frequently performed in concert by the orchestra alone, this evening's performance includes the vocal elements of the original score. The dances are in seven brief sections: a dance of the captive maidens, who sing of their homeland; a warriors' dance; an archers' dance, with a contrasting section for the Khans' captives; a two-part dance for boys and for men; a reprise of the maidens' dance, eventually combining with the boys' dance; another section for first the boys and then the men; and finally a dance for the entire company, with all participants singing in praise of Khan Konchak.