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Unit information: Russian Opera in 2015/16

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Unit name Russian Opera
Unit code MUSI20102
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Fairclough
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will look at the various ways in which Russian opera developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, reflecting changes in attitudes to 'Russianness', questions of Russian history, Russian musical nationalism and both cultural and political trends. Beginning with Glinka's Ruslan and Liudmila, we will explore Musorgsky's imposing historical operas, with their vocal and orchestral innovations and fascination with Russian medieval history, Borodin's overtly nationalistic Prince Igor, and Tchaikovsky's passionate settings of Pushkin's Evgeny Onegin and Queen of Spades. Among the numerous Soviet operas composed, we will focus on just three: Shostakovich's two completed operas, The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Prokofiev's War and Peace.

This unit aims to acquaint students with a particular repertoire of Russian art music, drawing upon the research expertise of a member of academic staff. The unit will address political contexts for its creation and dissemination; sociological models for understanding its reception; national frameworks and aesthetic principles applicable in the Tsarist and Stalinist eras.

Intended Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit, a student will:

  1. Have a good working knowledge of the operas selected for the unit
  2. Demonstrate a grasp of their socio-political context
  3. Be familiar with musical and other agendas for reception of Russian and Soviet music
  4. Display a sensitivity to historical context in discussion this repertoire
  5. Be aware of appropriate research methodologies and their application
  6. Be able to plan and present an essay effectively
  7. Defend and critique arguments effectively in writing

Teaching Information

Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars

Assessment Information

2,000 word essay (40%);

3,000 word essay (60%)

Both essays assess ILOS 1-7, with the shorter essay focused on topics from the first part of the unit, and the second essay synthesizing material from the whole of the unit.

Reading and References

  • Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically (Princeton, 1997)
  • Marina Frolova-Walker, Russian Music and Nationalism (Yale, 2007)
  • Boris Gasparov, Five Operas and a Symphony (Yale, 2005)
  • Simon Morrison, Prokofiev’s Soviet Years (OUP, 2009)