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10 Spooky Characters from Russian Operas

It is Halloween time, so we decided to do a little overview of our favorite spooky characters from Russian operas. So keep reading if you are not too scared ...

Demon (bass-baritone) from Rubinstein's "Demon".

Demon is the fallen angel, cursed by God and by people, he is bored by everything and he hates the whole world. But suddenly he sees the beautiful Georgian Princess Tamara and immediately falls in love with her. She is preparing for her wedding, but Demon orchestrates the killing of her groom. Tamara is in deep grief, but at the same time she keeps hearing Demon's voice calling her. She tries to hide in a monastery, but Demon is so obsessed with her that he dares to step into this God's Holy place. He promises to turn away from evil deeds to love, kindness and faith. In the end, Tamara gives in, but after his first kiss she falls dead.

Fyodor Shalaypin as Demon in Rubinstein's opera (1903)

Listen to Demon's romance performed by Dmitri Hvorostovsky (2014)

The Old Countess (mezzo-soprano / contralto) from Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades". When the Countess was young she found out (for the price of just one rendezvous) the secret combination of cards that always win. Since then she only told the secret to two people, but then a ghost came and warned her that she will get a deadly blow from the third person who will come to get the secret from her by force.

So, when Herman comes she is too scared to answer to his plea, then he threatens her, but she dies without telling her secret. Then the Countess comes to him as a ghost and opens her secret with the condition that Herman would save Lisa's life and honor and marry her.

Herman comes to talk to Lisa, but all his thoughts are about the cards. When he leaves for the gambling house, Lisa throughs herself into the river. And - the cards to not work for Herman - instead of the Ace he gets the Queen of Spades. It seems to him that he recognizes the Old Countess's face on the card and he shoots himself in desperation.

Scene in Countess's room and her death. Fragment of the performance at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, St.Petersburg. Countess - Elena Obraztsova

Act 3 - Countess's ghost, Lisa's death, the gambling house and Herman's death. Astrakhan Theatre for Opera and Ballet, 2012

Shemakha Queen (coloratura soprano) from Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel" - is in a way the Russian Queen of the Night. Or should I say Queen of Seduction?

In the opera The Golden Cockerel is warning the elderly Tzar Dodon about the war threat coming from the East. He sends there two armies led by his two sons, but none of them returns. Having no news, Tzar Dodon leads the third army to fight with the invader. But when he arrives, he finds both armied defeated, both of his sons dead and no sign of the enemy around.

There is only a beautiful tent standing nearby.

Then out of the tent appears Shemakha Queen - an Oriental witch queen who has the power to charm any man who looks upon her. She sings a sensual song about her Motherland, its nature, its women and about forbidden love with a beautiful stranger. And with this song she seduces King Dadon, makes him forget the loss of his sons and marry her. And, of course, she leads him to his death by the end of the opera.

Listen to Shemakha Queen's First Song (also known as "Hymn to the Sun") performed by Irina Zhurina

Kashchey (tenor) and Kasheyevna (mezzo-soprano) from Rimsky-Korsakov's"Kashchey The Deathless".

Kashchey The Deathless is a frequent character in Russian fairy tales. This is an evil wizard that cannot be killed by any usual means, instead it is necessary to find the place where he is hiding his death.

In this opera his death in hidden in the tears of his daughter Kashcheyevna. Being just like her father, Kashcheyevna is cruel and cold. But unrequited love and human kindness makes her cry for the first time in her life, which brings death to Kashchey and the end to his kingdom.

Ivan Yershov as Kashchey (Mariinsky Theatre, 1918)

Kashchey's aria performed by Alexander Zhukov, National Academic Theatre for Opera and Ballet of the Belarus Republic, 2008

Kashcheyevna's aria performed by Sara Dolukhanova and The USSR Orchestra.

Chyort / Byes and Solokha - are more of a comic rather that a scary couple featured in two operas written based on the same story: Rimsky-Korsakov's "Christmas Eve" (Chyort - tenor, Solokha - contralto) and Tchaikovsky's "Cherevichky" (Byes - baritone, Solokha - mezzo-soprano).

"Chyort" or "Byes" is often translated as "Devil", however this is not the Satan himself, this is only one of his little helpers. They look like a Greek Satirs - with human body, goat legs and horns and a tail. They can do some magic and often play mean tricks with people. But this particular Chyort is not very skilled in his craft. He gets caught by the blacksmith Vakula and has to help him in his quest to get the shoes of the Empress for his beloved Oksana.

Solokha (Vacula's mother) is a peasant woman and also a part-time witch. She has an affair with Chyort. And with the Head of the village. And with an elderly Cossak Chub. And with the village priest...

In the beginning of the opera Solokha and Chyort fly on a broom and steal the moon from the sky, then Chyort sets up a terrible snowstorm, and after that they sing a funny duet.

Duet of Byes and Solokha from Tchaikovsky's "Cherevichky" performed by Irina Lopatina and Mikhail Kukharyev.

Yurodivyy (tenor) from Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov".

Yurodivyy, a homeless insane man, appears at the square full of people singing his weird song. Street boys are following him and steal his only coin. He cries and complains to Boris and asks him to murder these boys just like he killed little Price Dmitry in order to have the throne for himself. Everyone is stunned. There were rumors that Dmitry's death was suspicious, but no one would dare accusing Boris aloud.

At that time people with mental disability were often called "The Blessed Ones". It was believed that they had a closer connection to God. But there were also monks who pretended to have a mental illness to be able to speak out and challenge the norms of the society and the authorities without being prosecuted.

It is remarkable that this scene takes place in front of the St.Basil's Cathedral at the Red Square in Moscow, as St.Basil was one of "The Blessed" too (full name is translated as - Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed).

That is why Yurodivyy's words in this scene have a lot of weight and a powerful effect on Boris.

Ivan Kozlovsky sings Yurodivyy's scene

Chernomor (the role has no vocal part) from Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyudmila".

This is an old dwarf-wizard. His magical powers are concentrated in his enormously long white beard and there is only one sword in the whole world that can cut it off. Chernomor kidnaps the beautiful Princess Lyudmila right from her wedding. He keeps the Princess in his palace planning to marry her himself.

In the first half of this recording you can hear the famous March if Chernomor and a few dance numbers. After that comes the scene of battle between Chernomor and Ruslan.

And the creepiest of all -

The Giant Head (sung by the Choir of Basses) from Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyudmila".

Searching for his kidnapped bride, Ruslan arrives to the Field of Dead. The place is all covered with bones and rusted weapons. There he sees the giant Head standing right on the ground. Ruslan fights with the Head, defeats it and gets the magic sword that can cut Chernomor's beard off.

While dying (cause it's opera!) the Head sings to Ruslan its story: they used to be famous warriors - he and his brother Chernomor. But one day they have managed to win in battle the magic sword. Both of them wanted to have it, but Chernomor tricked his poor brother. He'd cut his head off and left him there as the guard of the sword.

Scene of Ruslan and the Head

This was our selection of the spooky characters from Russian operas.

Have a happy and fun Halloween!!!

Natalia Melnik

P.S.: You can watch the full productions of the operas mentioned in this article here:

Rubinstein "Demon". Concert version of the opera at Moscow State Philhamony. 2015

Tchaikovsky "Queen of Spades". The Bolshoi Theatre. 1982

Rimsky-Korsakov "The Golden Cockerel". The Bolshoi Theatre. 1989

Rimsky-Korsakov "Kashchey The Deathless". Concert version of the opera by Mariinsky Theatre. 2017

Rimsky-Korsakov "Christmas Eve". Kyivsky municipal theater for Children and Youth. 2009

Tchaikovsky "Cherevichky". Rostov State Music Theatre. 2005

Mussorgsky "Boris Godunov". Mariinsky Theatre.

Glinka "Ruslan and Lyudmila". The Bolshoi Theatre.

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