Alexander Dargomyzhsky/Nikolaj Rimsky-Korsakov/Cesar Cui: The Stone Guest (1872/1969 Italian recording)

Opera in three acts. Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes.


I have chosen the 1969 recording in Italian for a number of reasons. First, I am not a purist, I’m a dastardly quack who if I can find a Russian opera in Italian, I’ll listen to it in Italian because I understand the language better. After all, I’m the crazy guy who listens to Lohengrin in Italian and loves it! Second, this is actually the longest recording of the opera I could find. For a three act opera, it is terribly short! Third, although the Dynamic release is certainly the best (and it is in Russian), I find the Don Juan too dramatic with a dark even baritonal timbre (I had difficulties telling him apart from Leporello, a bass!) and my preference is for lyric tenors, otherwise I’d just listen to Mozart’s opera. Fourth, I like the fact that this recording has a very pan-European cast. Don Juan is sung by a Polish tenor, Laura by a Bulgarian mezzo-soprano, and Don Cesar by an Hungarian baritone. The rest of the cast is admittedly Italian. Lastly, I actually heard this before and that is why I wasn’t stumped when my friend Nick the OperaScribe posted his review. I planned on doing this away.


ACT 1: (43.5 minutes)

0: The prelude consists of some oddly good melodic fragments. None of it ever comes together but taken individually they are all good ideas. Worth a star *. Incidentally, Rimsky-Korsakov actually wrote this.

Scene 1: A monastery cemetery.

3: The dialogue between Leporello and Don Juan * which opens the act is rather similar to the prelude. It consists of interesting, even beguiling ideas, but nothing takes over.

8: Don Juan has a lovely arioso **.

11: Something happens in the second half of the dialogue **.

16: Donna Anna is led by a monk to the tomb of her husband the Commander *.

Scene 2: The home of Laura, a mezzo-soprano seductress.

20: Laura’s party is much closer to standard opera and includes two songs **.

26: Laura’s second song **. Drink this in because it is the last aria in the entire opera, the rest is recitative.

30: The orchestral arrangement * as Laura has all her guest leave, except for Don Cesar (baritone), and their dialogue. Watch out for Don Cesar’s somewhat impassioned arioso.

34: A striking orchestral passage as Laura attempt her seduction **.

37: Don Juan storms into Laura’s apartments * and thinking they are alone, embraces her. Being surprised by the presence of Don Cesar they duel.

39: The duel itself ** is rather interesting as Dargomyzhsky uses the cymbals to depict swords clashing. Don Cesar is killed.

42: After another dialogue between Don Juan and Laura post-killing we get a passage of darkly romantic, almost sexy, music **, probably depicting Don Juan’s seduction, although given Laura’s reputation I wonder who is seducing whom….

{Apparently this recording was broadcast on German or Austrian or Swiss radio because the cast list is given in German at this point}

ACT 2: The Monastery as in Act 1 Scene 1. (23 minutes)

0: Having killed Don Cesar, Don Juan has fled to the monastery and taken the habit of a monk. He describes all this in an oddly fetching recitative with a furious almost Mozartean tinge to it **.

3: Donna Anna tries to give her confession to Don Juan (monk disguised) *.

4: It warms up rather quickly as Don Juan reveals himself and attempts his seduction with the most ardent overtures ***. This entire sequence, the closest thing to a duet in the entire opera, is really very good. He tells her that his name is Don Diego and they set up a tryst at her home the following day. She then departs. A lovely 10-minute sequence.

14: Don Juan expresses his joy at having such luck to Leporello. It is actually easy to believe he genuinely is in love with Donna Anna *.

15: The Commendant’s tomb starts to rumble *, obviously being protective of the widow.

18: The act finale ** in which Leporello is terrified by the whole stone statue obviously coming to life even though Don Juan doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Don Juan invites the statue to his rendez-vous with Anna. The movements of the statue are depicted rather well by the orchestra and we end with a satisfactory climax.

{Another German announcer interlude, cast list, and synopsis of the finale act auf Deutsch).

ACT 3: The home of Donna Anna. (19 minutes)

0: Donna Anna anticipates “Don Diego’s” arrival. He quickly arrives and declares his love for her ardently. This second encounter is not musically up to the quite the same level, but is still very good **.

7: Don Juan admits his real identity to Donna Anna *.

9: Don Juan still has a chance and takes as much as he can **.

15: The arrival of the Stone Guest, the Commandant ***. Donna Anna flees in terror. The Commandant tells Don Juan that he has come to take him to hell. At first he refuses to go, but he has no choice. The opera ends on a rather magnificent orchestral symphony as Don Juan is dragged down to hell.


So, this was interesting. What we have here is not quite a spoken play but not quite an opera either. It is something between the two. It is true that much of the opera consists of recitative over sustained chords (especially in the first act) which can become slightly boring, and Dargomyzhsky (apart from Laura’s songs which are called for in Pushkin’s closet drama which the libretto consists of word for word) totally avoids aria structures. The opera is somewhat lopsided with the first act being as long as the last two acts combined. That’s it really, I can’t find other faults with this. I don’t agree with Tchaikovsky’s impression that the score lacks melody. There are times, such as during the Juan-Anna scenes, when I find myself waiting for one or the other to burst into some glorious aria, but otherwise, the ideas here, even if fragmentary and not always consummate, are almost invariably good and at times stunning.  An A-.

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