The Stone Guest (Dargomyzhsky)

The Stone Guest (Каменный гость in Cyrillic, Kamennyj gost' in transliteration) is an opera in three acts by Alexander Dargomyzhsky from a libretto taken almost verbatim from Alexander Pushkin's 1830 play of the same name which had been written in blank verse and which forms part of his collection Little Tragedies.

It was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, 16 February 1872 (Old Style).[1][2]

According to the composer's wishes, the last few lines of tableau 1 were composed by César Cui, and the whole was orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Many years later, Rimsky-Korsakov revised his own orchestration of the opera, rewrote a few of Dargomyzhsky's own original passages, and added an orchestral prelude. This version, completed in 1903 and first performed in 1907 at the Bolshoi Theatre,[1] is now considered the standard version.

Performance HistoryEdit

The Austrian premiere of the opera was given in 1928 at the Salzburg Festival, in a production by students of the Leningrad Conservatoire. In 1952 it was performed in Italian, at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival. The United States premiere of the opera was presented in 1986, by the Chamber Opera Theater of New York at the Marymount Manhattan Theater in New York City with Ron Gentry as Don Juan, Randolf Messing as Don Carlos, Sally Stevens as Donna Anna, and Vladimir Kin conducting.[3]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
16 February 1872 (Old Style)
(Conductor: Eduard Nápravník)
Don Juan tenor Fyodor Komissarzhevsky
Leporello, his servant bass Osip Petrov
Donna Anna soprano Yuliya Platonova
Don Carlos baritone Ivan Melnikov
Laura mezzo-soprano Mariya Ilyina
A Monk bass Vladimir Sobolev
First Guest tenor Vasiliy Vasilyev (Vasilyev II)
Second Guest bass Mikhail Sariotti
Statue of the Commander bass Vladimir Sobolev


Title page of the score of The Stone Guest
(V. Bessel and Co., Saint Petersburg)

As an opera, The Stone Guest is notable for having its text taken almost word-for-word from the literary stage work which inspired it, rather than being set to a libretto adapted from the source in order to accommodate opera audiences which would have expected to hear arias, duets, and choruses. Consequently, the resulting musical drama consists almost entirely of solos given in turn by each character, as in a spoken play.

This procedure amounted to a radical statement about the demands of spoken and musical drama and was seen by some as a devaluation of the musical genre of opera, and distinct from the literary genre of spoken drama. Tchaikovsky in particular was critical of the idea; in response to Dargomyzhky's statement that "I want sound directly to express the word. I want truth",[4] he wrote in his private correspondence that nothing could be so "hateful and false" as the attempt to present as musical drama something that was not.[citation needed]

The value of the operaEdit

The opera was written at the time of the formation of realism in art, and The Stone Guest corresponded to this genre. Dargomyzhsky used the ideas of the society of The Five.

The great innovations of this opera are seen in its style. It was written without arias and ensembles (not counting two small romances sung by Laura[5]) and it is entirely built on the "melodic recitative" of the human voice put to music. This was immediately noted by Russian musical specialists César Cui[6] and Alexander Serov.[7]

Opera has been greatly important in the formation of Russian musical culture which, built entirely on European music, found its place in the world's musical culture.

The innovations begun by Dargomyzhsky were continued by other composers. Firstly, they were taken up and developed by Modest Mussorgsky who called Dargomyzhsky "the teacher of musical truth".[8] Later the principles of Dargomyzhsky’s art were embodied by Mussorgsky in his operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina; Mussorgsky continued and strengthened this new musical tradition. Other Russians operas have also incorporated the same stylistic elements, including settings of the three remaining Little Tragedies of Pushkin. These are Mozart and Salieri by Rimsky-Korsakov (1898); Feast in Time of Plague by Cesar Cui (1901); and The Miserly Knight by Sergei Rachmaninov (1904).

The modern Russian music critic Viktor Korshikov thus summed up:

There is not the development of Russian musical culture without The Stone Guest. It is three operas - Ivan Soussanine, Ruslan and Ludmila and The Stone Guest have created Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Borodin. Soussanine is an opera, where the main character is the people, Ruslan is the mythical, deeply Russian intrigue, and The Guest, in which the drama dominates over the softness of the beauty of sound.[9]


Consequently, certain musical novelties of The Stone Guest stem from the above basic premise of composition. For instance, there is little recurrence of whole sections of music in the course of the work; like the verse itself, the resulting music is primarily through-composed. (Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral introduction to the opera, however, draws on themes from the music that Dargomyzhsky composed.) As if to emphasize this feature, the composer wrote the entire opera without key signatures, even though it would be possible (and practical) to re-notate the work with key signatures to reflect the various tonalities through which it passes.

In addition, the opera was novel for its time in its use of dissonance and whole-tone scales. Dargomyzhky's attempts at realism and faithfulness to the text resulted in what has been referred to as a "studied ugliness"[citation needed] in the music, apparently intended to reflect the actual ugliness in the story. Cui termed the stylistic practice of the work as "melodic recitative" for its balance between the lyric and the naturalistic.[citation needed]



  • 1946, Aleksandr Orlov (conductor), USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Dmitriy Tarkhov (Don Juan), Georgiy Abramov (Leporello), Nina Aleksandriyskaya (Laura), Daniil Demyanov (Don Carlos), Gugo Tits, V. Nevskiy (Guests), Natalya Rozhdestvenskaya (Doña Anna), Konstantin Polyayev (Monk), Aleksey Korolyov (Commander)
  • 1959, Boris Khaikin (conductor), Moscow Radio Opera and Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Alexei Maslennikov (Don Juan), Georgi Pankov (Leporello), Irina Arkhipova (Laura), Vladimir Zakharov (Don Carlos), Galina Vishnevskaya (Doña Anna), Alexei Korolev (Monk), Gennady Troitsky (Commander)
  • 1977, Mark Ermler (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Vladimir Atlantov (Don Juan), Alexander Vedernikov (Leporello), Tamara Sinyavskaya (Laura), Vladimir Valaitis (Don Carlos), Vitaliy Vlasov, Vitaliy Nartov (Guests), Tamara Milashkina (Doña Anna), Lev Vernigora (Monk), Vladimir Filippov (Commander)
  • 1995, Andrey Chistyakov (conductor), Bolshoy Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Nikolay Vasiliyev (Don Juan), Vyacheslav Pochapsky (Leporello), Tatyana Yerastova (Laura), Nikolay Reshetnyak (Don Carlos), Marina Lapina (Doña Anna), Boris Bezhko (Monk), Nikolay Nizyenko (Commander)




  1. ^ a b The Stone Guest (ru: Опера Даргомыжского «Каменный гость»)
  2. ^ ru: Опера `Каменный гость`
  3. ^ Tim Page (February 23, 1986). "Music Notes; 'The Stone Guest' Makes A Belated Debut". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Taruskin 1981, p. 258
  5. ^ ru: Александр Даргомыжский – «Каменный гость» Archived 2013-08-11 at
  6. ^ César Cui. Selected articles. Leningrad, 1952
  7. ^ A. N. Serov. Selected articles. Moscow, 1950-1957
  8. ^ M. P. Mussorgsky. Collection of Romances and Songs, Moscow, 1960
  9. ^ Victor Korchikov, "Do you want, I'll teach you to love the opera. About the music, and not only". The publishing house ЯТЬ. Moscow, 2007 / Russian: Виктор Коршиков. Хотите, я научу вас любить оперу. О музыке и не только. Издательство ЯТЬ. Москва, 2007

Further reading

External linksEdit