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Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai: Sadko
Act 1: Song, “O scaly groznye drobjatsja s rjoyom volny” (Viking Guest)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk6/1/2002

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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While Sadko is seldom undertaken by non-Russian companies, certain individual episodes from the score are worth singers’ attention. These include the specialty numbers sung by the foreign merchants — tenor, baritone, and bass — in Act 2 (Tableau 4). Not nearly as familiar as the tenor’s world-famous Song of India is the bass’s Song of the Viking Guest, which would make for an imposing, knock-‘em-dead opening of any audition.

The title character, a singer of Novgorod who longs for adventure and riches, is scorned among his town’s citizens. On his travels, he discovers the magical King of the Ocean and is charmed by his daughter. She predicts that he will catch three golden fish and will travel to faraway realms. Later, before the citizens of Novgorod, Sadko does indeed catch the fish, to the town’s amazement. He then exhorts the men to accompany him on his adventures abroad. In deciding where he should go, he asks the three visiting merchants to sing about their lands. The Viking is first: He describes the stark landscape and stormy sea, declaring that his people were born in the sea and will die there. Their god is the great Odin, and they live courageously with powerful swords and sharp arrows, triumphing over their foes.

The bass is preceded by a massive orchestral buildup. As with so much Russian bass repertoire, sheer breadth of sound is the basic prerequisite. The aria is much less mellow and soulful in character than that of, say, Gremin in Eugene Onegin. The voice is challenged to find appropriately dramatic colors to present all the vivid images given in the text. Most of the aria sits in the lower-middle range. The final section does carry the voice significantly higher, but it can’t be at the cost of either tonal solidity or an equalized sound.

Score: Reprint of aria available from Classical Vocal Reprints, 800-298-7474
Recording: Bulat Minjelkiev in complete recording, Philips #442138; Nicolai Ghiaurov in recital disc, part of series entitled “The Singers,” Decca #467 902-2; Feodor Chaliapin, aria recital, EMI Classics #61009
Timing: 3:12
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