This is how our grandfathers and fathers lived under Askold


Askold’s Grave became one of the most affectionately received operas in Russia of the first half of the century before last. The melodies of its valiant songs and elevated and melancholic arias have become passed into folklore. The audience unmistakably recognised in the music and characters of the opera, in the simple and witty speech of their dialogues, something of their own, something native. They were also fascinated by the image of the Unknown – a mysterious sinister stranger who appeared from nowhere, later dying in the waves of the Dnieper, a messenger from another world – akin to the black hunter Samiel from C. M. von Weber's Der Freischütz or Robert le diable from the eponymous opera by G. Meyerbeer. A decade after the premiere, the Moscow audience was introduced to the Unknown by a young Chaliapin and the aria “This is how our grandfathers and fathers lived under Askold” in his performance remained in their memory for generations.

Verstovsky jealously contested the glory of being the first Russian opera composer with Mikhail Glinka. And he was right in his own way: Glinka’s Life for the Tsar appeared on stage a year later than Askold’s Grave. Moreover, a younger colleague borrowed some plot details from his favourite brainchild.

Nowadays, Askold’s Grave is totally “lost” amongst many operas by famous younger contemporaries of Verstovsky. And yet, its undeniable fame among Russian operas of the Romantic period gives rise to curiosity and interest. How did Ancient Rus appear in the work of Verstovsky? What did theatregoers of his time admire in him? What will our contemporaries be able to hear in this opera? The new staging on the Chamber Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre will itself be the answer to these and other questions.