When my daughter was an infant, I read that babies love classical music. How thrilling! Right off the bat, I could be a superior parent. I had lots of classical music – thanks to a great record store with a staff that bordered on maniacally passionate.
So I played classical cds for my new baby. And while she seemed to like them, there was something… wrong. The music was terrific, but it just didn’t seem quite as advertized. Perhaps the people on the baby websites weren’t playing the same type of classical music we were. Perhaps they didn’t have Russsian Armies crashing through frozen lakes, and czars losing their minds.
I don’t know why they didn’t. It’s great music.
I purchased much of this music during my Depressing Opera phase. While anything that ended in certain death was fair game, I was especially fond of the Russian doom and gloom aesthetic.
One opera that worked okay in the nursery was Prince Igor.
I figured Prince Igor would be good for babies because it has Prince in the title, which practically makes it a children’s story. Yes, there’s some murderous rampaging, but not nearly as much as some of the others. And none of the people you like die at the end – probably because Borodin died before finishing it (and them).
It also has some really lovely music. Here’s what happens:
Prince Igor sets off to battle the Khans, leaving his wife in the care of her brother, who is a jerk. As in most opera stories, the brother-in-law has his sights on the throne. Think Prince John in Robin Hood.
While the Polovtsians are dancing (in a number Borodin totally ripped off from Kismet), one maiden is pining for her true love, Vladimir – Igor’s son. She has her father’s blessings to marry him, but she knows Prince Igor won’t permit it, since her dad is a Khan. Her dad has kind of a man crush on Igor, so he’s fine with it. He’s also fine with letting Igor go if he promises to be friends. Did I mention that Igor’s army was defeated? Igor and Vladimir are captives, which gives Vladimir’s girlfriend a chance to sing about him.
Igor and Vladimir have a chance to escape, but Vladimir chooses to stay. Igor’s escape only solidifies Khan’s man crush – which won’t stop Igor from planning another siege on Monday. The whole third act is negotiable, by the way, since Borodin hadn’t written it before he died. But how Igor goes from being defeated to showing up back at home as if nothing happened is a leap even opera can’t make.
So he goes home to Yaraslavna, who is pining for him. And who can blame her? Her stupid brother heard that Igor was defeated and is making a pitch for the throne. If he gets it, someone’s going to a convent so she’ll stop busting him for abducting maidens.
And at the end, the chorus sings about how God heard their prayers. This right here is just about everything I love about Russian opera. All operas should have bells.
See? No one crashes through the ice or anything. Kids’ stuff.