Review of W. B. Chase in the New York Evening Sun

Glory Be ‘Prince Igor’
Gala House Greets Russian Premiere
Ballet Wins a Riot for Borodin
Cavalry Prologue Starts the Recalls
Caviar Chorus Eclipses Even Stars

Because it’s easier to get a dead Russian "immortal" through Europe's battle lines now than to free a live one like Nijinsky, whose dancing feet slipped somehow in the tangled threads of the latest Ancona note, there was excitement a-plenty on Broadway last night when a Russian ballet by the Metropolitan's own stars greeted a gala audience halfway in "Prince Igor" and won a sure enough riot for Borodin. The descendant of King David never heard his own opera at Petrograd. In fact, he didn't live to complete it. New York waited a year, and America twenty-five years, for this production on the same stage as the great "Boris" of Moussorgsky. If a cavalry prologue started the recalls, a wealth of exotic music racy of Russian soil helped a caviar chorus to eclipse even the stars in "Prince Igor."

Cutting an overture and a third act, which contained least of the composer's original scoring, Giorgio Polacco brought the difficult first night and the season's first novelty to a brilliant finish as early as 11 o'clock. That in itself was a triumph of cooperation on the part of all Gatti's forces. The conductor shared repeated curtain calls midway in the performance, and so did Giulio Setti, who drilled the chorus, and Jules Speck, who with Edward Siedle and others was responsible for the stage. Alda as a "Griselidis" sort of heroine, earned the first hand from the gallery. Didur in dual role another from the standees. Amato, a warrior of the Dark Ages a thousand years ago, had the sensation of hearing too quick applause hissed by the house, which clapped in turn against a roar of patriots for old Russia's captive chief. There was a thrilling moment at the end, when the returned fighter threw reins to his horse and the startled animal eluded capture by two mounted attendants heavily cumbered in battle arra.

With its all but embarrassment of riches from historic material, "Prince Igor" has a heart interest for others than Russians today. The proverbial man in the street could have heard Luca Botta's "Ah! Vien," as the little tenor caroled Prince Vladimir's lovely cavatina in the blue moonlight of the Tartar camp by some Northern river like Verdi's old Nile. To him came the beautiful Flora Perini, a Mongolian maiden, aglow in canary silks and gold. And when a Tartar of a future father-in-law gave his blessing by ordering out the ballet, there were doings to make the tired business man sit up. Galli, the new Bonfigho and Bartik, led a wild man's dance and cave man's courting to the queen's taste. Diaghileff himself never had a chorus like that behind these coryphees and premier dancers. Delaunois voiced a Young Girl's comment on the scene, Egener acted a Nurse, Audisio a good Samaritan, who set Igor free, while the accomplished Segurola and Bada as two comic valentine villains more than once brought down the house.

That Borodin 's words should have been in English is only repeating what was said of "Boris" a few years back. This language is nearer the rugged Russian sounds. Yet a certain ironical justice lay in the liquid Italian, used for the composer of "Igor" had his thoughts on western European models as surely as old Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein. He was the great backslider of the later revolutionary "Five." His whispering chorus girls was a thing of flower-like delicacy. Another, behind the scenes, had been sung lately by the local Russian Cathedral choir. In the "Glorias" of the prologue's call to war, he rang the changes on the burning Kremlin bells of 1812. A second curtain, where Segurola and Bada retreated in a drunken dos-a-dos, was inimitably funny. The first signs of dancing stirred ripples of applause like the earlier courses at a cabaret. Such a stageful has nowhere been shown, for the packed regiments and fantastic entertainers of the Great Khan of the Golden Horde actually outnumbered New York's gorgeous opera subscribers in the solitaire diamond parterre levels of the Golden Horseshoe.

An opera without a tenor for leading role achieved the wonder of playing its premiere to a regular Caruso crowd. Amato in the star dressing room received reports from his son Spartaco on the quick verdict of the lobbies between acts. He was surprised himself, as he said, "This is the first opera in which I play a title role and do nothing." But his voice was as clear as a certain golden throat when he sang without forcing. Alda never looked better than in the Princesss Yaroslavna's antique robes and tiara, all in lines of gems like an "ikon." Didur, who's the Mary Garden of stage men, disguised himself completely as the young Russian roue Galitzky and later the Tartar Khan Kontchak. His own daughters didn't know him.

"Prince Igor” is going make any amount of talk. Its plot goes back to a time when Asian hordes held sway from Mongolia to the Baltic Sea, to be driven back centuries after by a nation of "Ivan's" and "Boris's” terribly marching on Siberia.

Last night's crowd had a lot of trouble with names. It was like reading Gogol's "Taras Bulba. They made "Igor's" town of Poutiole sound "beautiful," and the warring Polovets had the rhythmic swing of "suffragettes." The music is immensely well worth knowing, and the outlandish words will become popular in time.

Review of Sylvester Rawling in the New York World

‘Prince Igor, Russian Opera, Gets a Hearing

"Prince Igor," a Russian opera, book and music by Alexander Borodin, sung in Italian to a text by Antonio Lega and Giulio Setti, got its first performance in America at the Metropolitan Opera House last night. It was splendidly produced by Mr. Gatti-Casazza. The scenery, the principal singers, the choruses, the ballet, all were admirable. And yet! Well, it's a pity that it did not precede, instead of follow, Moussorgsky's "Boris Godunov," which has been one of the gems of the company's repertory for three seasons. Originally the opera consisted of a prologue and four acts, but Mr. Gatti, following the Russian initiative, after trying it out at rehearsals, decided to eliminate the third act. There were two reasons. The composer died before the opera was completed and it was rounded out by his friends, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazounov. Too much of them and too little of Borodin was in the music, and the work was too long. Mr. Gatti may well go further and let Mr. Polacco, who conducted with rare skill, make more cuts in the score. It will be to the work's advantage.

Now, as to the music. Like "Boris," for the whole structure of it recalls Moussorgsky's work, it is a deification of the chorus, sustained by fine orchestral effects. The prologue's "Gloria" is not the religious one of "Boris," but is finely scored and stirring. The drunken chorus of the first act, admirable in conception, musically worthy, is too long drawn out. Here's a chance for Mr. Polacco to wield his blue pencil. The chorus of maidens in the second act is beautiful, and the "Long live our little Father" at the end makes a good curtain.

For the principal characters there are some effective solos. Strangely the best of them do not fall to Igor, the book's protagonist. It isn’t fair to Amato, who dressed appropriately, looked well and sung well. His “No Sleep, No Rest" in the second act was his chief opportunity, and he availed himself of it to the limit of great capacity. Altogether he gave an impersonation that was impressive. The chief honors fell to Frances Alda, as Yaroslavna. She was a lovely picture, acted with discretion as well as with force, and sang better than she has ever sung. Her Yarolsavna adds much to her artistic stature.

Luca Botta, his voice restored, sang Vladimir, Igor's son, beautifully and had a martial bearing. Didur, whose Boris has placed him in the front rank of heroic character delineators lent to the dual parts of Prince Galitzky and Kontchak distinction and authority. Andre de Segurola, and Angelo Bada as Scoula and Erochlot, the drunken conspirators, were excruciatingly funny without overdoing their comedy parts. Flora Perini sang Kontchakovna charmingly, and Raymonde Delaunois, indifferently classified as A Young Girl, and Minnie Egener as The Nurse, added to the rounding of the cast. Pietro Audisio was a capable Oviour, who shared with Igor and Vladimir the gifts of efficient horsemanship.

Unsigned review in the New York Evening Telegraph

Another Russian Opera at the Met

Long promised and often delayed, Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor” was given at last in the Metropolitan Opera House last night, where with Moussorgsky’s “Boris Gudonov” it represents Russian opera in the eclectic repertory of the greatest opera house in the world.

Whatever doubts may have been entertained about the favorable reception of the new work were all dispelled when the curtain fell on the thrilling climax of the second act, with its superb orchestral upbuilding, its haunting rhythms that set the pulses leaping to new measures, and the superb Tartar dances on the stage, full of barbaric vigor and movement.

“Prince Igor” lacks the tense dramatic quality of “Boris Gudonov.” It has, however, a vitality all its own, an abounding optimistic spirit, and easily comprehended story with a warm human quality and touches of humor that might be called Shakespearian.

Best of all, Borodin has been faithful to the musical idioms of his own country and clearly expressed the national character. Much of his music is easily recognizable as Russian fold music, and when he carries his story to the realm of the Tartars he has been equally faithful to the spirit of their wild music. With all this wealth of melody, the score is also particularly rich in harmonic color.

Like “Boris,” its predecessor at the Metropolitan Operas House, “Prince Igor” has a vigorous epic story concerning the departure of the hero and his followers in pursuit of the Tartars, despite the protests of Igor’s people, terrified by an eclipse.

Even in the abridged version given at the Metropolitan the full story may be gleaned. The treachery of Igor’s brother-in-law, the despair of Igor’s wife left behind and Igor’s own defeat and captivity among the Tartars are clearly set forth.

The scene of his escape while the Tartars hold a wild orgy is omitted, and the last act shows Igor’s return to his desolated country, his happy reunion with his wife and an indication of happier days to come.

By reason of the abridgement the adventure of Igor’s son Vladimir among the Tartars and the manner of his winning a Tartar wife are omitted. Consequently the role of Vladimir, assigned to the tenor, Luca Botta, and that of Kontchakovna, assigned to Flora Perini, become very unimportant.

Pasquale Amato sang and acted the title role commendably last night, with Mme. Frances Alda as a competent exponent of the role of his wife, Jaroslavna. But there figures as drawn by the composer are merely conventional.

The real hero of the work is the crowd, and the music allotted to the choruses of the Metropolitan opera House covered itself with glory by its successful interpretation of the many voiced hero of the opera.

Adamo Didur as Igor’s brother-in-law Galitzky, and later as the Tartar Khan, succeeded in differentiating the two roles admirable, a more difficult task in opera than in mere drama. Miss Raymonde Delaunois, as a young Tartar girl, sang a cavatina in the second act with much sweetness and engaging simplicity. Miss Minnie Egener, veiling her youthful beauty under a nunlike wimple, made the role of Jarolslavna’s nurse a skillful character bit.

The two comic figures of the opera, Skura and Yerochka, strolling musicians, who make much of the trouble for Igor and adroitly slip away from the consequences, were admirable presented by Andrea de Segurola and Angelo Bada. These two seem to have wandered out of a typical Broadway comic opera.

The Tartar dancers, which were the sensational feature of the opera, were arranged by Ottokar Bartik and performed with delightful zest, especially by the male dancers.

Giorgio Polacco conducted in an adequate manner. He had the difficult task of directing an opera which was originally announced to heave been conducted by Toscanini.

The stage settings, which were reproduced exactly from the original production in Petrograd, arrest attention by their unusual quality. The first setting showed towering buildings in warm coloring on either side of the stage, with a background of cold gray towers, and brilliantly caparisoned troops and townsfolk ranged in effective groups.

The Tartar set was equally effective with the warm colors of the tents set off against towering gray rocks with a gleaming river shining in the distance. The attempt to represent the smoke arising from the tents was the only blemish in this scene.

Partial review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times

Borodin’s Russian Opera of Folk-Music Coldly Received at the Metropolitan
Chorus Predominant In a Story with Little Dramatic Interest – Mme. Alda, Amato, and Didur in Cast.

Review of Richard Aldrich in The New York Times

….So far as the characters of the opera are concerned, Jaroslavna is the most interesting, the most effectively delineated, the most skillfully characterized in the music. Mme. Alda is entrusted with the part, in which she appears as a brilliant and striking figure, sumptuously costumed, a delight to the eye if not always to the ear, dramatically skillful in impersonation. Prince Galitzky is typically presented, a rude and forceful personage of flesh and blood, dominating the scenes in which he takes part; a role in which Mr. Didur appears to great advantage and which he fills with characteristic traits, also doing much excellent singing.

Prince Igor, the titular hero, is hardly more than an operatic lay figure. Mr. Amato gives of his best in it; gives a princely bearing as a leader setting out to war, a dolorous dignity as a captive. His singing makes the most of the music that is allotted to the part; but his admirable skill as an actor cannot vitalize it nor make the hero seem a really significant factor. Nor is Vladimir, who scarcely more than makes his presence known in the second act with his lovemaking, much more than a conventional operatic lover. Erochka and Scoula, minor characters though they are, are extremely typical, and Borodin has focused a good deal of the Russian characteristics of his music upon them. Messrs. Bada and Segurola enact these wretches with clownish humor and spirit and give them their due value in the picture.

The chorus had been well drilled to take the prominent part it has to play in the opera. It showed mastery of the music, often difficult. It sang sonorously, vigorously, with intelligent modifications of the dynamic effects, often with a plausible semblance of participation in the scene. The massive chorusing of the army in the prologue, the drunken reveling in Galitzky's courtyard, the difficult choruses of the maidens appealing to Jaroslavna in her chamber, and later the announcement of the Boyards there and the excitement over the outburst of conflagration in the town caused by the approaching enemy, the rejoicing of the people at Igor's return, are among the most powerful and imposing of the choral passages.

The second act, in the camp of the Polovtsi, has a separate quality of distinction, and it created last evening the deepest impression that was left by the opera. It is the one in which Borodin has devoted to his Oriental coloring. The chorus of maidens at the beginning, the wild dances accompanied by choruses of the soldiers, are the most effective and most novel passages of the opera. Here the ballet occupies the centre of interest, and there has been an elaborate effort to realize the intentions of the composer, the opportunities offered by him. Dances by the Far Eastern prisoners of the Polovtsi, "from beyond the distant Caspian," men and boys, dances of the women in swaying movements, and the elaborate pantomime dance of the two principals, Miss Galli and Mr. Bonfiglio, achieve highly picturesque and even thrilling results.

It can hardly be supposed that the ballets of the Metropolitan Opera House, with the best of intentions and the most zealous of efforts, can attain what would be-and probably will be, later in the season-presented by a native Russian ballet. But the effort to go outside of conventionalities of the operatic ballet has been sincerely made and is to a high degree successful. It was rewarded by much applause .from the audience last evening.

The performance was a praiseworthy fulfillment of a difficult task. Mr. Polacco conducted it and realized much of the vigor, the power, the unfamiliar color and accent of the music. The scenery of the Russian operas has been a not inconsiderable item in giving them success in their performances abroad. Unfortunately the setting of Prince Igor is not of Russian execution, and lacks the exotic note that makes the scenery in "Boris Godounoff" at the Metropolitan so impressive. Much of it, however, is well designed. The architectural effects in the prologue lack the solidity and massiveness which do belong to the ingenious setting of the last act, and in some degree to the courtyard scene of the first. The scene of the camp of the eastern barbarians might have been made more picturesque. The costumes shown are uncommonly rich and varied in color and design.

Unsigned review in an unidentified newspaper


When Moussorgsky's opera "Boris Godunov," was presented to Americans for the first time, a new star emerged at the Metropolitan Opera House. The star of that performance was the chorus. Russian opera seems to contain the potentiality of creating new and unwonted stars. Last evening took place the American premiere of Alexander Borodin's opera, "Prince Igor," and this time the corps de ballet plainly proved to be the most interesting feature of the performance to the audience that filled the house.

The explanation is so simple as to be banal. “Prince Igor" is a ballet opera, and the Metropolitan rose to this phase of its opportunity. If this opera of Borodin is not eventually to go the way of Tchaikovsky’s "Pique Dame," which appeared with Gustav Mahler and disappeared with him, it will be because of the rhythmic stamp of its barbaric second act music and the feet of the whirling dancers therein. Last evening the first burst of genuine applause waited upon these things.

For the rest, "Prince Igor" is a patchwork of operatic styles and workmanship. And this applies to its story as well as to its music. As drama, it is very good ballet — for one act. As ballet, it is very good primitive, physical drama — also for one act. As music, it is Orientally spiced folk tunes, Borodin of Busette, Rimsky-Korsakoff midwifery and Glazounov eau sucre—not a potpourri to set before a king.

Meanwhile "Otello" and "Falstaff" go a-begging and likewise "Don Giovanni" and "Le Nozze di Figaro.” But "Boris Godunov" opened a new vista at the Metropolitan and more such music was sought to be set before the public — which, fortunately, sometimes likes what it is told to like. "Boris" was Russian — therefore, "let us have more of the Russians." “Prince Igor" was chosen for performance during the season of 1914-1915, but it had to wait its turn and its turn did not come until last night.

Borodin, however, was no Moussorgsky, and "Prince Igor" is only a make-shift Borodin. After his death the opera was still inchoate. Rimsky-Korsakoff and Glazounov set to work among the shadows. Only two choruses, one of the "Igor" dances and some three of its airs had been orchestrated. There was not even a libretto for the second and third acts. Most of what Borodin had written was only in piano score. From this and their inner consciousness, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Glazounov made the "Prince Igor" that in part was heard last night.

At the eleventh hour the Metropolitan management decided to omit a good part of Glazounov. This consisted chiefly of the original third act, and its omission was probably an eleventh hour inspiration. The writer has not heard this third act, but from what he has heard of Glazounov in Glazounov’s own person the writer, for one, has no regrets. The overture, also Glazounov’ work, was likewise omitted. The writer has heard this overture and he applauds the Metropolitan's decision in this matter.

The opera's book purports to have some basis in the genuine or spurious twelfth century "Song of Igor," a recital of the exploits of this princeling, who battled with the Polovtsy, a powerful Tartar tribe. The writer is also shamelessly unacquainted with “The Song of Igor." But, genuine or spurious, there is indubitably precious little of the atmosphere of such a saga in Borodin's work.

The prologue of the opera exhibits Igor going off to the wars with the Polovesy, leaving his Prosperpine of a wife in the care of her brother, a Polish princeling of Galicia, in the twelfth century as Russian as the best of them. This Prince Galitzky is, operatically, a devil of a fellow in the first act, which you may gather from his carousing in true operatic fashion, but not nearly so interestingly, as an instance, as the carousing is done in the prologue to "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," The prince causes sister Proserpine many pangs, but the story leaves him in the mid-air of his deviltry to wander off to the Polovtsy camp for the ballet and a love scene end an Igor lament. Opera will be served.

Igor and his son, Vladimir, are captured by the Polovtsy, but Igor refuses to escape, probably because the Polovtsy are not drunk enough in the second act. Having later sacked Igor's capital, they become more obliging. And Igor returns to his Proserpine, leaving his son to marry the Tartar Princess. You can readily believe that here is no "Song of Igor," be it genuine or spurious.

What the Metropolitan has done for "Prince Igor" consists chiefly in an augmented and well trained ballet and some excellent costuming, the latter evidently learned from what the Russian travelling troupe in Paris had to teach. A little singing last evening would have helped the opera a great deal. All of the singing that transpired was from the voice of Luca Botta, who had the role of Igor's son, Vladimir, and now and then from the chorus.

Had there been a little singing, both the prologue and the two scenes of the first act would have been much more interesting. Mr. Amato, who was Igor, gutturalized the prologue with the unmusical raw edge of his voice, and Mme. Alda sang in her coldest and most tremulous fashion in her scene of the second act. Mme. Flora Perini, the daughter of Tartar chieftain, was equally tremulous in the second act. Here there is some really lovely music. Mr. Botta did it justice, as also did the chorus. All the fire, all the savage vigor, all the surge of rhythmic enchantment that there might be in this second act was left to the imagination — and the feet of the dancers — by Mr. Polacco, who conducted the opera. If you care for the ballet in an unusual demonstration and have sufficient imagination to spread over the rest of ''Prince Igor," you will like the Metropolitan’s “Prince Igor.”

Unsigned review in the Brooklyn Eagle

First American Performance of Borodin’s ‘Prince Igor’

“Prince Igor” was produced for the first time in America last evening at the Metropolitan Opera House, with a cast of characters that did ample justice to the Borodin opera, and with scenic effects that, including “specialties,” at times aroused to enthusiasm an overflowing attendance. Previous interest in the production had been stimulated through the success of Moussorgsky’s “Boris Gudonov,” another Russian opera, at the Metropolitan. And, like “Boris,” the Borodin opera is most forceful, attractive and appealing in the choruses, which are more frequently introduced in “Prince Igor” than in the Moussorgsky work. In them lies the Russian flavor, whether in ensembles by women or men or in mixed voices. The work was to have been produced last season, but was deferred to this and the training of the singers, then begun, enabled them to sing last night the difficult and strangely accented music.

Just how much of the composition of the arias for the principal artists was the work of Borodin does not appear, but several of them lack fiber. Without the admirable interpretation by the Metropolitan vocalists there might have been something like insipidity. To Mme. Alda, in the role of Prince Igor’s wife, Yaroslavna, was entrusted the most appealing arias, which she well delivered, looking radiant in her splendid attire and acting her part with grace and finish. In particular her aria in the last act, when she laments the supposed loss of her husband in war, received the longest applause for a solo that was given in the opera. To Amato, in the role of Prince Igor, was allotted solos, some of which were virile, as in the prologue, and others that were fluently delivered, in his best style, but lacked force in composition, as in a scene when he laments his captivity. A more convincing and human character than Prince Igor was the treacherous Prince Galitzky, gallantly and forcefully acted and sung by Mr. Didur. He had also, in a later act, the role of the Khan Konchak, conqueror of Prince Igor, in brief duet with the prisoner, Igor, a duet not distinguished for force in the writing.

Dramatic Interest is Weak

In almost pre-historic days, in a remote Russian city, as the story runs, Prince Igor took his army from his native Poutivle to conquer the fully warlike heathen, the Tartar tribe of Polevtsy, but was defeated and captured. He escaped and returned to his wife, Yaroslavna. Histrionism has little to do with the merits of “Prince Igor.” First in importance is the singing of the chorus, and next, the full, varied, strongly Slavic flavor in the orchestration. In scenic effects, too, the work is admirably presented, even though the handiwork is of New York, instead of Russia, though models in Petrograd were used. Great praise is due to Mr. Gatti for bringing out the piece and for the valuable work of his technical assistants. Imposing and characteristic architecture is seen in the prologue, in which Prince Igor goes to fight the Polovtsy tribe, and also in the last act, where a vista is revealed showing, a castle terrace and long lines of bastions leading into the distance.

Strength in Two Scenes

Two scenes in the work stand out as peculiarly either Russian or Tartar in character. One of them was a scene of drunker revelry, such as has never been seen before at the Metropolitan. Time will tell whether it will please or displease Manhattan audiences; it may be acceptable to audiences that are looking for sensation, and be pardoned because it is “on the stage.” It is a scene in which the traitorous Price Galitzky seeks the favor of the people in the absence of Prince Igor, and plies them with wine. It may be a faithful picture of a vodka-drinking Russian crowd on a market day.

The other strong scene is the dance of the Tartars, specially prepared in the second act, in the Tartar camp. Disclosed, to right and left, are tents, while in the background is a sapphire sea, bounded by mountains. Girls in Oriental attire dance a slow movement, and Mr. Botta, as Vladimir, the captured son the Prince Igor, in splendid voice, serenades and lures from her tent Mme. Perini, as Konchakovna, daughter of the conquering Khan. They sing a duet of love.

Wild Dancing in Tartar Camp

The action leads into the Tartar dance, which is bound to become popular. The Khan’s men and women “slaves” enter and dance, the women swaying their bodies in Oriental style of the dance, or stamping, gesturing, turning and twisting – a ballet gone mad. Through all, the warriors are in constant, restless movement in the background, or advancing and retreating, brandishing their warlike bows. All through the scene, against brasses, in the orchestra, women in the background chant in slow measure. Wilder even than the warriors was the chief woman dancer, Rosina Galli, who outdid herself, accompanied by Bonfiglio. Giving lively effect, also, was a scarf-dance by women, as the warriors pranced about, the scene ending with an ear-piercing whoop. Tremendous applause and many recalls before the curtain followed the dance.

Prince Igor’s return home on horseback, accompanied by his retainers also mounted, were, with Mme. Alda’s aria, the incident that closed the opera. Mr. De Segurola and Mr. Bada, as renegades, contributed the fun, which evidently was a big desideratum from the Borodin point of view. Miss Egener, as nurse to Yaroslavna, and Mme. Delaunois, as a young girl, did well in their roles. Mr. Polacco entered with spirit and skill into the conducting of the piece, and it was by no means a task for a tyro.

Review of W. J. Henderson in the Sun

New Russian Opera is Episodic, Which Seems to Be Its Chief Fault

“Prince Igor,” opera in four acts and prologue, the book and the music by Alexander Porphyrisevich Borodin, was produced at the Metropolitan Opera House last evening. The conditions attending the introduction of this new musical drama were of a familiar kind. The audience was large. There was plenty of applause. The singers were called before the curtain many times. The enthusiasts behind the orchestra rail added their voice to the sound of hand clapping.

The new work is the second from the Russian repertory to find its way to the Western world. Doubtless its performance was due to the interest aroused by the presentation of Moussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” and that comparisons will be made between the two works is inevitable. If these provoke discussion they will perhaps intensify interest in both operas, which resemble each other only on the surface. Happily comparisons need find no place here, where a description of Borodin’s creation alone is required.

The opera falls into the class of historical dramas, and it has one radical fault often found in such works. It is episodic. There is no artistic development of emotional experiences, such as makes a true drama. The author has sought to draw from ancient chronicle incidents with which to arrange a series of brilliant scenes. Amid these certain human emotions are revealed, but they are not the motives of the action. That is purely political.

The story is taken from a “bylina,” or metrical chronicle, one of the ancient lays in which history and fable mingle their various accounts of a people’s infancy. This “bylina” deals with the war of Prince Igor against the Polovtsy, a Turkish tribe of invaders. Igor was one of the numerous princes who governed the provinces of Russia before the unification of the country and the centralization of its government.

Third Act Cut Out

The incidents into which the story falls are loosely connected. Light is thrown on the character of the libretto by the fact that after several rehearsals and before last evening’s performance the third act had been voted a bore and had been ruthlessly cut out. The opera went on comfortably with a single change in the dialogue of the second act – all that was necessary to keep it from falling apart entirely.

In the prologue Prince Igor bids his wife farewell and goes forth to meet the enemy. There are processions and choruses. It is not dissimilar to the [first] scene of “Boris.” In the first act we see what results when the lord of the city is away. Igor has left his wife in the care of her brother, Prince Galitzky. That distinguished nobleman promptly gets drunk and the whole town hastens to assist in his orgy.

The second act shows us Igor and his son, Vladimir, prisoners in the camp of Khan Konchak, the Polovtsy General. Vladimir has fallen in love with the Khan’s daughter, and she with him. Love duet, including the inevitable passage sung sitting on a bench. Igor is very downcast, but accepts the offer of a recreant Turk to help him to escape.

This is the revised version of the Metropolitan. In the original he refuses and it becomes necessary to have a third act in which he escapes and the Khan holds fast to the son, betrothing him to the daughter. This part of the drama is now mercifully left to the imagination. The fourth act takes us back to Russia. Yaroslavna, wife of Igor, weeps. Presently she sees dust on the horizon. Can it be? No! Yes, it is; it is my long lost husband! End of opera.

Want of Dramatic Creativity

Thus we see that there are several emotional states of more or less poignancy and some opportunities for spectacle. But there is no demand for dramatic continuity in the music, and with this radical defect the opera halts lamely to its conclusion. Borodin’s admirers lay much stress upon the brilliant use of Oriental color, while he himself warns us not to expect ingenuity in the treatment of recitative: “I am far more attracted to melody.” Then he enlightens us in regard to his general plan. He has no affinity to what is called endless melody. He prefers “definite and concrete forms.”

“In opera,” he says, “as in decorative art, data is and minutiae are out of place. Bold outlines are only necessary; all should be clear and straightforward and fit for practical performance from the vocal and instrumental standpoint.” Every word in this contains sense. But the practical application of it must be found disappointing, at least to the disinterested observer. Some of “The Five,” whose precepts Borodin rejected in his practice, admired the opera. It has its happy moments; but it has its bad quarter hours. Doubtless the Russian mind views these things differently. And then Prince Igor is a national hero.

Borodin’s treatment of the book then retires recitative to disuse as much as possible. What dialogue we hear is carried on in a very vague and ill defined style of arioso, and this want of melodic definitiveness is discernible in the solo parts from beginning to end.

If there are solo parts one looks in vain for anything in the nature of characterization. The speech of Galitzky has Russian melodic idiom as its base and in one place reiterates a phrase heard in the duet of the Nurse and the Czarevich in “Boris Godunov.” Little of dramatic significance, however, is accomplished by this leaning upon the folk song. The other personages neither do nor sing anything pertinently Russian.

The best piece of solo music in the opera is that delivered by the Prince in the camp scene, beginning in the Italian translation “Oime! Nel cor gravera l'angoscia ognor.” It is not a strikingly original or brilliant piece of writing, but it is good enough to provide scope for a few minutes of impressive dramatic singing and perhaps this is as much as we should demand of an operatic composer in this lamentably dull era. The fact that Borodin wrote the passage some thirty years ago makes this consideration none the less appropriate. The solo was without question the most successful in the performance, and it owed much of its value to Mr. Amato’s finely planned delivery of it.

Choruses Are Well Written

However, the arioso allotted to the principals in this score will not make any deep scars on the memory. The operagoer, even he who thinks of opera as an art and not as an after dinner cordial, will without question be of the opinion that the most meritorious portions of the work are the excellent choruses and the ingeniously developed scene of barbaric revel in the camp of the Khan.

The theatrical craft disclosed in this scene is worthy of a more experienced operatic composer than the Russian chemist. It is a cunningly made union of various spectacular elements. Such elements in the opera are not wholly scenic. There are spectacular action and music also. When all are molded in a cohesive and eloquent mood picture, even if it be not of the more subtle type of psychology, we have an art work, though possibly not of towering importance. Such a creation we have in the camp scene of “Prince Igor.”

To be sure we may shrug an impatient shoulder when we find our ears choked with rationed seconds, but we are in the musical Orient, where the flat second and the flat sixth dwell together in loving fraternity. But there is other material and most of it is serviceable and some of it newly disposed in captivating patterns. Borodin has written a long and elaborate development of a choral dance. The music allotted to the chorus in this scene is highly effective and the variety of rhythmic figure in the whole dance is good. The glitter of costumes and the agility of dancers do not constitute the entire value of this scene. It is musically successful.

In other incidents of the drama we find manifestations of the same skill. The opportunity to utilize masses is again and again seized with avidity by the composer, who apparently finds himself less ready when he is called upon to publish human emotion with a single voice. Probably the congeniality of ensembles tempted Borodin into a prolixity which sadly mars the opera.

Most of its incidents – even some which are without chorus – are needlessly spun out. One has only to recall the eclipse, the drunken scene, the imploring women before the Princess, even the barbarian festival and the preparation for the return of Prince Igor. With this descent into prolixity goes a fondness for dilatory orchestral measures interspersed between lines of vocal utterance, a fault which has brought failure upon many an opera otherwise worthy of toleration.

Opera Needs More Cutting

It is one of the failings of music that it impedes action; but it has a more deplorable effect upon dialogue, unless it places itself absolutely at the service of speech. Borodin’s score would gain immeasurably if some skilled hand could go through it and cut out every measure of music which compels the actors to stand idly waiting while it is played. Action cannot be created merely to fill such voids; if it does not grow naturally from the scene it is worse than futile.

The summary of the matter, than is that we have an opera of thin and disconnected story, and resultant score in which little approach is made toward a true dramatic exposition of human emotion. We are invited to view a few episodes in which human feelings are treated as accessories to a historical plot. The real nuclei of the score are the mass effects from which the tenuous solo parts stream in quickly diminishing rays.

The best artistic textures in the choruses are to be found in those of the prologue, the petition of the maidens in the first act, the camp scene of Act III and the invisible chorus of the last scene. It may be added that this last serves only to delay the action of the work and hence its musical value is lost.

A complete enumeration of the features of the production cannot be made now. The scenery is very good, very good indeed, and since scenery has become a principal star in Metropolitan productions too much emphasis cannot be laid on the statement. The costumes may share the glory of the scenery. They are also very important. The dancers deserve much praise, especially Miss Galli, who showed extraordinary activity and endurance. The choruses were admirably sung. Everyone knows that choruses are vital to some lyric dramas. Think of “Parsifal.” To be sure there is also Kundry, but this is another story, and it is German opera too. Possibly one would rather think of the choruses in “Boris,” or of the thrilling score of “L’amore dei Tre Re.” which storms through two splendid acts of human tragedy without any chorus at all. But Borodin’s choruses, as we have seen are brilliantly composed and it is well that they were beautifully sung.

There are no great roles for principal singers in “Prince Igor.” All are sketches and no impersonator can make much of scattered fragments. Mr. Amato is the hero of the performance, for his Igor has a certain heroic dignity and a breadth of utterance, which is not to be attained by other roles. He sang his music with power and with an artistic discretion sometimes missing from his interpretations.

Mme. Alda made a charming picture within the uncertain outlines of the part of Yaroslavna. Her costuming was beautiful and her appearance attractive. Her singing was uneven in value. It had passages of tonal beauty and sensibility of feeling; it had others which suffered from her familiar difficulties in quick enunciation. Mr. Didur was excellent as the irresponsible Prince Galitzky. As for the chorus they had more bits to do, and they did well enough, though without any great distinction.

Mr. Polacco conducted the opera. The whole performance was wanting in smoothness, and the musical director doubtless had some anxious moments. The orchestra was not overburdened. The instrumentation, which is the work of several hands, is workmanlike, but not distinguished.

Review of Grenville Vernon in the New York Tribune

Borodin Work Receives Its First American Performance
Chorus Again Plays Large Part in Action of an Interesting Novelty

Alexander Porphyrievich Borodin's opera "Prince Igor" was presented for the first time in America last night, at the Metropolitan Opera House. This work, the second of the national Russian school to be produced at the Metropolitan by Signor Gatti-Casazza, had been promised for last season, but unforeseen difficulties caused its postponement. In presenting it Signor Gatti has said that whatever its chance of popular success he wished to give it as another example of the work of the Russian lyric stage, his production of Moussorgsky's "Boris Godunov” having proved the most important operatic event in New York since the production of "Parsifal." That "Prince Igor" would prove a second "Boris" Signor Gatti did not assert, nor has there been any such general expectation. "Boris," with all its dramatic weaknesses, is a work of supreme genius, a truly democratic epic — "Prince Igor" the unfinished work of a man of great talent. Yet last night's production, whatever its popular success, whatever the failure of the work, and, indeed, often its trivialities, was an event of unusual interest. "Prince Igor," when truest to itself, is like "Boris," the spontaneous outburst of the Russian people. There is in it much that is extraneous to this spirit, many pretty Italian tunes – yet when we discuss these let us remember that Borodin left his opera unfinished, and that in all probability Rimsky-Korsakoff, who with Glazounov completed the opera, was responsible for much that Borodin himself might have written otherwise.

Borodin died in 1887, leaving "Prince Igor" unfinished, though it is believed that he had begun it twenty years before. Rimsky-Korsakoff, writing of the circumstances of its completion, says:

"In the early morning of February 16, 1887, I was visited by Mr. Stassow, who entered with a strange expression on his face. ‘Do you know,' he said, 'that Borodin is dead?' The thought of the unfinished 'Prince Igor' at once flashed through my mind. After the burial in the graveyard of Newsky Monastery, I took hold of the manuscript with Glazanov and we decided to complete it. Several parts, such as the first chorus, the dance of Polovetsy, the final chorus, the part of Vladimir, the airs of Konchak, Konchakovna, etc., were already finished and orchestrated. Other numbers were merely in the form of a piano score, and many parts did not exist, For the second and third acts there was not even a libretto — merely some unfinished songs and sketches. But I knew well the designs of these acts, having discussed it so often with the composer. Least finished of all was the third act. We decided that Glazounov should finish the third act and the overture, which the composer had played so often, while I did the rest"

As both the overture and the third act are omitted in the Metropolitan's production, as they were omitted in the Diaghileff production in Paris and also in the performances at Covent Garden, the work as last night's audience heard it is really the joint production of Borodin and Rinsky-Korsakoff. No doubt, the ideas of Borodin were the animating spirit, even in the portions written by Rimsky, yet the belief will not down that had Borodin been able to complete the work the music would have possessed a unity lacking in its present version. As this, however, can be only mere hypothesis, we must take the opera as it is, and as it is it must stand or fall. . . .

The Music

It is these wonderful Slavic choruses, choruses first made known to us in “Boris,” and the Tartar dances which raise “Prince Igor” from the level of a dull Italian opera. Whenever Borodin attempts to wax lyrical his soul undergoes a momentous change, loses its Slavic color, and drifts helplessly across the Alps into the vineyards and gardens of Italy. Here he begins to dote on love and pipe dolefully in the manner of Tuscan or Lombard amorists. Whether it is Igor or Yaroslavna, Vladimir or Konchakovna, who pour out their souls dulcetly, they invariably do so in the Italian manner. It is a high tribute that the Russian composer pays to the land of Rossini – only does not lyric love exist on the Russian steppes? But when Borodin turns to scenes of carousal, he turns full heartedly. Give him a chance to sing of the joys of vodka and he sings with all the spirit of the Russian race. Here he bases himself on the firm rock of Slavic folksong, and how high does Bacchus stand in these old lays! Almost Falstaffian are these scenes and almost unconsciously we find ourselves quoting the words of old Sir Toby: “Thinkest thou because thou are virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

In the Tartar dances, too, Borodin is completely at home. These dances, which were made known to us several years ago by the MacDowell Chorus, are replete with oriental color and rhythms, savage, fascinating breaths from the Eastern plains, dances of the people, for the people, by the people. Here Borodin, the democrat, emerges and proclaims proudly that a democratic art of music can exist, if not in Eastern Europe, at any rate beyond the Vistula. If only he had carried this belief with him throughout the opera!

“Prince Igor” is, in short, a work of considerable interest, and for its production Signor Gatti-Casazza deserves high praise. It is one of the chief works of Russian opera, it is popular in its homeland, and it is but right that we in America should be allowed to judge of it for ourselves. Yet outside of its choral vigor and its dances its importance is slight.

As a music drama it possesses far less continuity even than “Boris,” to which opera the development of the character of its protagonist brought a certain definite unity.

Igor goes to war, is captured, escapes, and is reunited to his wife. The other characters enter and disappear without rhyme and without reason. Dramatically Prince Igor is almost infantile.

The presentation was most admirable. Signor Polacco gave to his conducting abundant enthusiasm and sympathy, and Signor Setti brought the chorus to a truly marvelous unity of effort. Of the artists Adamo Didur, in the double role of Galitzky and Kontchak, was admirable in the Slavic spirit, while Mr. Segurola and Mr. Bada were extremely amusing as the two drunken conspirators.

Signor Amato gave dignity to Igor besides singing the music most skillfully. Mme. Alda sang Yaroslava very charmingly, and looked very pretty. A special word of praise should be given to the ballet, trained by Mr. Bartik, and especially to the dancing of Rosina Galli and Giuseppe Bonfiglio. As far as the audience went these dances were the triumph of the evening.

The scenery was painted from the models used at the opera in Petrograd. Some of the settings, notably the first, and the one in the apartments of Yaroslavna, were exceedingly effective. Others were more conventional, and the camp of the Polovetsy looked like a “Trovatore” set of the vintage of 1882.

Cover to the first edition,
piano-vocal score of
Borodin's Prince Igor.
(Leipzig: M.P. Belaieff, 1889).
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.
Fuld Collection.

Pasquale Amato as Prince Igor.
Photograph by White Studios.

Frances Alda as Yaroslavna and
Pasquale Amato as Prince Igor.
Photograph by White Studios.

Frances Alda as Yaroslavna.
Photograph by White Studios.

Pasquale Amato as Prince Igor and
Frances Alda as Yaroslavna.
Photograph by White Studios.

Luca Botta as Vladimir.
Photograph by White Studios.

Adamo Didur as Prince Galitzky.
Photograph by White Studios.

Pasquale Amato as Prince Igor.
Photograph by White Studios.

Photograph by White Studios.

Scene from Prince Igor.
Photograph by White Studios.

Act I Scene 1
Photograph by White Studios.

Act I Scene 2
Photograph by White Studios.

Act II
Photograph by White Studios.

Scene from Prince Igor.
Photograph by White Studios.

Photograph by White Studios.

Photograph by White Studios.

Frances Alda as Yaroslavna
Photograph by Herman Mishkin.

Headresses worn by
Frances Alda.
Metropolitan Opera Archives.

Giuseppe Bonfiglio and
Rosina Galli.
Photograph by Herman Mishkin.

Rosina Galli.
Photograph by Herman Mishkin.

Skirt worn by Rosina Galli.
Metropolitan Opera Archives.

Prince Igor
Victrola Book of the Opera.

Prince Igor
Victrola Book of the Opera.