Iconic Female Characters from Russian Operas

On the 8th of March we celebrate the International Women's Day, so we decided to share just a few iconic female characters from Russian operas.

Tatyana and Olga from Tchaikovsky's “Eugene Onegin" (Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano / Contralto)

Tatyana and Onegin, Olga and Lensky are probably the most well-known Russian opera characters. The opera is based on the novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin and in the opera Tchaikovsky stays very close to the original text. However, while the original novel focuses first of all on Onegin's life, the opera Tatyana's character is just as important.

Pavel Sokolov. “Onegin and Tatyana”

Tatyana's letter scene was the first scene of the opera composed by Tchaikovsky and the cornerstone of the whole opera. In contrast with selfish and manipulative Onegin, Tatyana represents an open, noble and honest person with a great sense of duty. She is not afraid to be vulnerable in front of him and she is strong enough to overcome her feelings and stay faithful to her husband.

Please listen to Tatyana's letter scene performed by Galina Vishnevskaya

Diction Tutorials for this song are available here Tchaikovsky "Tatyana's Letter Scene" - FULL PACK

Tatyana's sister Olga, on the other hand, is a light-hearted 'child' who is not taking life very seriously and by that causes a lot of pain to Lensky who is deeply in love with her.

Please listen to Olga's aria performed by Polina Shamaeva

Diction Tutorials for this song are available here Tchaikovsky "Olga's Scene and Aria" - FULL PACK

Ioanna from Tchaikovsky's "The Maid of Orleans" (Dramatic Soprano / Mezzo-Soprano)

The opera tells the story of the legendary French female warrior Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431). It shows Joan's life from the day when she felt her calling to lead the French army to victory till the moment of her death.

Please listen to "Ioanna's Aria" from act 1 - her sad and moving farewell to her native fields and hills performed by Olga Borodina

Diction Tutorials for this song are available here Tchaikovsky "Ioanna's Aria" - FULL PACK

In her second aria Ioanna tells to King Charles VII and his court about her life and the visions that guided her to set off for her mission to save her Motherland. Please listen to "Ioanna's Story" performed by Nina Rautio (the aria starts at 06 min 20 sec of the recording)

Diction Tutorials for this song are available here Tchaikovsky "Ioanna's Story" - FULL PACK

Iolanta from Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta" (Soprano)

"Iolanta" is Tchaikovsky's last opera, based on he Danish play "King René's Daughter" by Henrik Hertz. On the outside this seems to be a sweet story about the power of love. But at the same time it is deeply mystical and symbolic.

During the whole opera all the characters are occupied with protecting Iolanta from finding out the truth about her disability and trying to cure her and bring her to light. Iolanta, on the other hand, shows them that she does not need eyesight to be able to fully embrace and praise God, as "God's goodness is endless, it as no limits". She shows outstanding strength and courage facing the treatment that she needs to go through - not for herself, but to save the life of her loved one.

Please listen to Iolanta's arioso performed by Anna Netrebko in which Iolanta starts to vaguely suspect that there is something more to life that she does not know...

Diction Tutorials for this song are available here Tchaikovsky "Iolanta's Arioso" - FULL PACK

The Old Countess from Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades" (Mezzo-Soprano / Contralto)

The Countess appears in the opera first as an unpleasant elderly lady, complaining and unhappy about everything. They say, she knows a secret combination of cards that always wins. She only ever told this secret to two people in her entire life. But then a ghost appeared and warned her that the third person who will come to get the secret from her by force, will cause her death.

Benoît-Charles Mitoir. “Princess Golitsyna” – the prototype of this character in “Queen of Spades”

The time comes and the prediction plays out. Herman comes hoping to find out the winning combination, but she is too scared to answer him. He threatens her, but she dies without telling her secret.

Next the Old Countess comes to Herman as a ghost. She tells him the secret combination with the condition that he would marry Lisa to save Lisa's life and honour.

But Herman only cares about the cards now. He leaves for the gambling house, while poor Lisa throws herself into the river and dies. Because Herman did not keep his promise the cards to not work for him- 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.