Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Golden Cockerel” has never been a major fixture of the operatic canon. And yet the opera, which first premiered on Oct. 7, 1909, is slowly finding its way into more and more opera houses in recent times.
The opera is based on Pushkin’s 1834 poem, “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel” and was completed in 1907. Rimsky-Korsakov had actually decided that he didn’t want to write any more operas, but inspired by the circumstances in Russian politics, the composer decided to take one final stab. However, his attempt ultimately faltered as the work was banned for years due to its subversive commentary.
Short Plot Summary
The Tsar Dodon thinks that his country is in danger and reaches out for the advice of an astrologer who supplies a magic Golden Cockerel to protect him. The cockerel confirms the Tsar’s fears and the leader pre-emptively attacks a neighboring country with an army led by his sons.
Unfortunately, his sons are useless and wind up killing each other in battle. The tsar decides to head into battle himself but promptly falls for the Tsaritsa, who is leading the enemy country. She engineers a marriage proposal from the Tsar to ensure she can conquer his country without bloodshed.
After the marriage, the Astrologer returns and reminds the Tsar that he would be promised whatever he asked if he protected and promptly asks for the Tsaritsa. The Tsar attacks the Astrologer but is promptly beaten up by the Golden Cockerel who disappears with the Tsaritsa.
Famous Musical Excerpts
The work has a number of famous musical excerpts including its Introduction, the Lullaby, the “Hymn to the Sun,” the “Wedding Procession,” and the dances from the second act.
Watch and Listen
The opera is around two hours in length. Here is a performance from 1989 with an all-Russian cast.