Story, style, and *structure in the operas of César Cui
The fifteen operas of Russian composer César Antonovich Cui (1835–1918) heretofore have never been addressed in a comprehensive fashion. For the first time this study analyzes together Cui's six full-length operas (Prisoner of the Caucasus, William Ratcliff, Angelo, Le Flibustier, The Saracen, and The Captain's Daughter) and his shorter stage works (a comedy, one-act tragedies, and children's operas). Using evidence in printed sources, it examines their musico-dramatic features within the context of the conditions under which they were composed and performed. These conditions include the reception accorded them and their relation to the works of Cui's contemporaries and to his own operatic ideals. Several indications of likely influences from other models or genres have been posited or identified in such figures ranging from Meyerbeer to Balakirev, as have likely exchanges of musical ideas between Cui and other composers, especially Rimsky-Korsakov.
This study shows that Cui and his operas maintained a persistent, if not pervasive, position in the musical life of the era, and that to a certain extent his works bore relation to contemporaneous historical events and political circumstances. His position is both enriched and complicated by his intense and polemical activity in music journalism, wherein among other things he promoted the esthetic ideals of his circle and advocated for the works of Russian composers. The study uncovers, and at times reinterprets, the problematic and interesting aspects of Cui's musico-dramatic style—which incorporated certain stylistic features characteristic of Russian art music—in recognition of his avoidance of Russian subjects (except primarily Pushkin). These factors are intertwined with the shifting tastes of his Russian audience, for whom most of the operas were composed.
As this study demonstrates, Cui's primary operatic achievements lie in being the first member of the “mighty handful” to have an opera performed (William Ratcliff); being the first of them to have an opera performed in the West (Prisoner of the Caucasus) and the first Russian to premiere an opera in Paris (Le Flibustier ); completion of Dargomyzhsky's Stone Guest (with Rimsky-Korsakov) and Musorgsky's Fair at Sorochintsy; and his considerable contribution to the repertory of children's opera in Russia.
0314: Slavic literature