Mikhail Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture
Composed between 1837-42, Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila is based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem of the same name. Split into five acts, the opera’s libretto was written by Valerian Shirkov, Nestor Kukolnik and N.A. Markevich. Seldom performed as a full-scale opera today, the opera is now fondly remembered for its animated overture.
Infamous for being devilishly difficult for double bassists to play, Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila is full of exciting twists and turns. Opening with a bold tutti announcement, the strings rush off with their incredibly quick first theme. This overture is a real showpiece, with the sheer speed and intricacy needed being some of the main challenges. The theme is developed, with gushing string melodies and delicate woodwind interlude, the overture pulls you from pillar to post.
Glinka’s dramatic use of dynamics shadows other overtures such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. The bold changes keeps you on the edge of your seat as the orchestra builds up to small climaxes. The thrilling opening string theme returns, this time full-realised. Glinka’s rich textures keep the melody light and the accompaniment heavier, offering an intriguing display of timbres. As the tempo picks up this fizzing overture comes to its spectacular end as the orchestra reunites back in the home key.
Mikhail Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila is one of his most famous works. Now often programmed as a stand-alone piece, the overture is truly thrilling.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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