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Main Stage

12 April
2024 | Friday
Artists Credits
Opera company
Valery Borisov, Chorus Master
Helen Zaytseva, Costume Designer
Gleb Filshtinskiy, Lighting Designer
Dmitriy Chernyakov, Stage Director
Performed in Russian (The performances wiil have synchronised English supertitles)

The performance has 2 intermissions

Sadko is an opera in seven scenes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer, with assistance from Vladimir Belsky, Vladimir Stasov, and others. Rimsky-Korsakov was first inspired by the bylina of Sadko in 1867, when he completed a tone poem on the subject, his Op. 5. After finishing his second revision of this work in 1891, he decided to turn it into a dramatic work.

The music is highly evocative, and Rimsky-Korsakov's famed powers of orchestration are abundantly evident throughout the score. According to the Soviet critic Boris Asafyev, writing in 1922, Sadko constitutes the summit of Rimsky-Korsakov's craft. From the opus 5 tone poem the composer quoted its most memorable passages, including the opening theme of the swelling sea, and other themes as leitmotives – he himself set out to "utilize for this opera the material of my symphonic poem, and, in any event, to make use of its motives as leading motives for the opera".

Performance history

The composer was closely involved in the "assiduous" rehearsals, and he "drilled the orchestra with great care, together with [the conductor] Esposito who proved a very fair musician". Rimsky also corrected errors in the score and worked hard with the chorus. Apart from the Sea-King singer "whom I could not endure" he approved of all the solo singers and singled out Zabyela, who "sang magnificently" and Syekar-Rozhanski.

The world premiere took place on 7 January 1898 (O.S. 26 December 1897), presented by the Russian Private Opera at the Solodovnikov Theatre in Moscow. Its conductor was Eugenio Esposito, the brother of Michele Esposito, with scenic designers Konstantin Korovin and Sergey Malyutin. The production was financed by the railway tycoon Savva Mamontov; this was the first time that one of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas was staged by a commercial theatre rather than the Imperial Theatres. The St. Petersburg premiere followed 26 January 1901 at the Mariinsky Theatre, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, with scenic design by Apollinary Vasnetsov.

In 1906, the opera was presented at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow conducted by Vyacheslav Suk, with scenic design by Konstantin Korovin. The first US performance occurred at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 25 January 1930 in French with Tullio Serafin, followed a year later by the first performance in London in June 1931.

A truncated production was mounted in Monte Carlo in 1921, conducted by Victor de Sabata, with Dimitri Smirnov in the title role. Revivals took place at the Bolshoi in 1935, 1949 and 1963. A production at the Berlin Staatsoper in 1947 featured Ludwig Suthaus, Erna Berger and Margarete Klose. Aleksandr Ptushko directed a film of the opera in 1952 with the music but without singing. A new production by Alexei Stepaniuk for the Mariinsky Theatre in 1993 was later toured to Paris (Théâtre des Champs-Élysées) and recorded.

Sadko is rarely performed today outside the Russian Federation. However there was a new production in Amsterdam (2017), and one is scheduled for Bratislava (2018). Also in 2018, a rare U.S. series of performances is scheduled for March in Silver Spring, Maryland. Sung in Russian with English supertitles, the production is produced by Bel Cantanti Opera Company, led by BCO artistic director Dr. Katerina Souvorova in collaboration with The Four Seasons Dancers (directed by Elena Indrokova-Jones) and The Olney Ballet (directed by Patricia Berrend). Designer Ksenia Litvak. Sadko: Patrick Cook, Lyubava: Viktoriya Vita Koreneva, Volkhova: Katie Manukyan. Stage direction by Gregory Scott Stuart.



Sadko finds himself at the feast in a rich house of the Novgorod merchants’s guild. Guild leaders order a song in praise of heroic deeds. Nezhata, a young guslar, sings for them. Unable to hold his tongue at the table, Sadko admonishes the merchants for their clinging to the antique traditions and vain boasting. Affronted by Sadko’s accusations, the merchants angrily banish him from the feast.


Sadko comes to the shore of Lake Ilmen. Surprised to see a beautiful girl appear there, he desperately tries to find out her identity. The girl reveals her secret to him: she is Princess Volkhova, the youngest daughter of the Sea Tsar and Tsarina Hydraqua. Her beauty enchants Sadko into total oblivion. Volkhova promises to help Sadko and tells him about the three magic goldfishes he will capture once he goes fishing in Lake Ilmen with his net. These fishes will make Sadko rich and prosperous.


Sadko arrives at his wife’s, Lubava Buslaevna. She has waited for him all night long and rushes to embrace him, but he turns her down. Sadko has made up his mind to go to the harbour and make a bet that there are three goldfishes in Lake Ilmen.


The harbour of Novgorod hosts a boisterous market. Sadko challenges the guild leaders to bet there is goldfish in Lake Ilmen. The guild leaders mock him, so he raises the stakes and bets his life against all the guildsmen’s wares. The leaders take the bet. Sadko casts his net, the crowd impatiently anticipating the result. Volkhova’s promise is fulfilled: three living goldfishes are agonizing in Sadko’s net, eventually turning into pure gold. Sadko is rich now and subject to everyone’s praises. Exalted, Sadko decides to summon a band of brave men and equip ships. He asks foreign merchants to tell him about the distant lands to choose where to set sail to.


Sadko is in despair. Before his eyes there are hopeless scenes of his ship standing still in the high seas and his men throwing barrels of gold, silver, and pearls overboard as a toll to the Sea Tsar so that he would release the ship to join the rest of the fleet. Sadko supposes the Sea Tsar is up to a human sacrifice and suggests that they should cast lots to choose a victim to be drowned. The band agrees, and the lot is drawn by Sadko himself. Solemnly heading to his death, Sadko suddenly hears Volkhova’s voice.


Sadko and Volkhova are in the underwater realm before the Sea Tsar and Tsarina Hydraqua. The Tsar orders Sadko to sing a glorifying song, and the singing is so much to his taste that he offers Sadko to stay for good and marry Volkhova. Sadko plays his gusli, and the seafolk dance frantically. Amidst the celebrations Vision the old mighty warrior appears and stops the dance, ordering the Sea Tsar to let Volkhova go away with Sadko.


Sadko is asleep to the sound of Volkhova’s lullaby. Volkhova bids him farewell forever. Awake, all Sadko can hear is Lubava’s wailing. Everyone gathers to greet Sadko.

Dmitri Tcherniakov

Main Stage 1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
New Stage Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia
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