“Sadko” is an opera-bylina in seven scenes by N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer with assistance from V. Stasov, V. Belsky, V. Shtrup, V. Yastrebtsev. The première took place on 26 December, 1897, presented by the Russian Private Opera in Moscow. The opera was conducted by M. Esposito; scenic designers — K. Korovin, S. Milyutin (Sadko — A. Sekar-Rozhansky). In the following performances participated N. Zabela (Volkhova) and F. Chaliapin as the Varangian guest.
Rimsky-Korsakov was inspired by the story of Sadko since his young years. Among his first outstanding masterpieces: the symphonic picture “Sadko”. The conception of the opera borned during 1880-s. In 1894 he started with sketches, and after a year and a half continued working hardly on a composition. He has finished his opera-bylina in 1896. Some of its episodes are based on the symphonic picture “Sadko”.
“Sadko” combines the fantastical and imaginary world with the daily life. As usual, Rimsky-Korsakov was looking for any unusual patterns of relationships between nature and people: the wedding of Sadko and Volkhova looks symbolic. In several places the composer uses actual bylini formulae from the ancient songs to construct the melodies of his recitatives and arias. He shows the deepest understanding of the foreign culture in his songs of overseas guests.
Since the world première “Sadko” was staged by different theatres all over the world with big success. Vocalists of the following generations are still singing and acting in a manner derived from N. Zabela, A. Nezhdanova, A. Sekar-Rozhansky, I. Ershov, F. Chaliapin.
A. Gozenpud. Opera Dictionary