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The Golden Cockerel

The Golden Cockerel: Fantasy or Political Reality

The Santa Fe Opera presents Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel for their 61st summer season. Rimsky-Korsakov’s final opera is at once a simple and complex adaptation of a modern Russian fairy tale set by Alexander Pushkin. Like a Fabergé egg, The Golden Cockerel is a brilliantly constructed and ornamented work of art containing an even greater and more surprising treasure—a moral for those in power who do not take their responsibility seriously.

“Our production evokes the world of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes while taking us on a journey via modern technology and video,” said Director Paul Curran. “The music is truly magical and sensual, comic and deeply moving. It’s a hugely surprising undiscovered jewel of an opera.” The conductor is Emmanuel Villaume.

The purely human character of Pushkin’s story, The Little Golden Cockerel – a tragi-comedy showing the fatal results of human passion and weakness–allows us to place the plot in any surroundings and in any period. On these points the author does not commit himself, but indicates vaguely in the manner of fairy tales: “In a certain far-off tsardom”, “in a country set on the borders of the world”…. Nevertheless, the name Dodon and certain details and expressions used in the story prove the poet’s desire to give his work the air of a popular Russian fairy tale (like Tsar Saltan), and similar to those fables expounding the deeds of Prince Bova, of Jerouslan Lazarevitch or Erhsa Stchetinnik, fantastical pictures of national habit and costumes. Therefore, in spite of Oriental traces, and the Italian names Duodo, Guidone, the tale is intended to depict, historically, the simple manners and daily life of the Russian people, painted in primitive colors with all the freedom and extravagance beloved of artists.

We are ushered into the opera’s fictitious kingdom by an Astrologer, the opera’s framing character and its implied narrator, who welcomes us to a cautionary fable set in the realm of Tsar Dodon. Any resemblance to the now-extinct bird, famous for its clumsiness and inability to adapt, is purely intentional. Amid burlesque humor satirizing human folly, it becomes clear that Tsar Dodon’s kingdom is continually at war; no sooner does one end than another begins. The Astrologer appears, offering a seeming panacea: a golden cockerel that can provide advance warning of any kind of threat. It can also announce when the king can safely relax. Thrilled, the Tsar offers the Astrologer any reward he wishes in exchange for the bird, which promptly announces attackers advancing on two fronts. The king puts his two sons in charge of two armies to repel the two invaders. But in the opera’s second act, he discovers that his defenders, taking each other for enemies, have fought to total destruction on both sides. This leaves the Tsar without military protection—and leaves the way clear for the beautiful, brilliant Queen of Shemakha, who declares she will conquer the Tsar without force of arms.

A co-production with The Dallas Opera. A company premiere.
First performed at Moscow’s Solodovnikove Theatre on October 7, 1909.

Sung in Russian with Opera Titles in English and Spanish.

2017 Performance Dates:

8:30pm : July 15, 19, 28.

8:00pm: August 3, 9, 18.


Santa Fe Opera
301 Opera Drive, Santa Fe, NM 87506
505-986-5900 800-280-4654
July 19 @ 8:30 pm to 11:00 pm
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