About This Work
Glazunov's score for the ballet Raymonda, Op. 57, props up a weak and fanciful narrative by novelist-journalist Lydia Pashkova, who submitted her ideas for a new scenario to Ivan Vsevolozhsy, director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, in 1895.
Raymonda was originally produced in January 1898 at the Mariinsky (now Kirov) Theatre in St. Petersburg, with choreography by the great Marius Petipa. Prima ballerina Pierina Legnani (then in her benefit year) took the title role, with Sergei Legat as her suitor, the chivalrous knight Jean de Brienne.
The action takes place in medieval Hungary. Raymonda is to marry the crusader Jean de Brienne, but when he is summoned to take up arms abroad, Raymonda becomes the object of desire of the wicked Saracen infidel Abderakhman, who plots her abduction. The beneficent White Lady (a spirit committed to the guardianship of Raymonda's noble family line in perpetuity) suddenly appears at the critical moment. The planned kidnapping is thus foiled, and Jean de Brienne slays Abderakhman in battle with the sword.
The forgoing events, though entirely predictable, are spun out to occupy most of the ballet's first two acts. The third act focuses entirely on the betrothal and jubilant marriage celebrations for Raymonda and Jean de Brienne. Musically, this final act is composed of a series of divertissements and separate variations, one of which is the "pas classique hongroise," the most famous individual episode in the entire ballet. Though the somewhat ramshackle plot, with its banal and unsurprising outcome, is hardly an inspired literary creation, Raymonda survives in the repertory chiefly as the result of Glazunov's exquisite and imaginative score. Though Act III is occasionally presented on programs as a freestanding item, the complete ballet is seldom revived, overshadowed by the composer's more popular The Seasons (1898).
-- Michael Jameson, All Music Guide
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